On the surface, it wouldn't seem as if Johnny Jolly and Sam Shields share a whole lot of similarities.
Stating the obvious, Jolly is a 300-plus lb. defensive lineman while Shields is a sub-200 lb. defensive back. Shields is a young player on the rise, while at 30 years old, Jolly is on the downside of his career, if there's anything left to his career at all.
But on Tuesday in Green Bay, Jolly and Shields had plenty in common.
Both players took part in the Packers' minicamp practice yesterday for the first time this offseason, albeit for very different reasons.
Jolly was back in action for the first time in three years after being suspended by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Shields, meanwhile, signed his one-year tender offer from the Packers after unsuccessfully seeking a multi-year contract, at least for the time being.
Jolly and Shields were also both being eased back into the swing of things in Green Bay after missing all of Phases I and II and part of Phase III of the team's offseason program. As head coach Mike McCarthy described it, they were on a "limited-practice plan."
Both players are also being looked as ways to improve a Packers defense that was mostly a middle-of-the-road unit last season, if maybe slightly above average.
There's no doubt about it, Shields has a much better chance of making the team's regular-season roster and contributing to the team in a meaningful fashion as compared to Jolly.
Reading into his comments made on Tuesday, McCarthy's expectations for Jolly are modest.
"The biggest thing for Johnny is just to be one of the 90, and that's really the way I want to go about it," said McCarthy in his press conference. "Our locker room is ready to embrace him and make sure he has the support that he needs to––not football wise, the football part I'm not really worried about––I just want to make sure he gets into a routine. Regularity is important to everybody, especially a professional athlete.
"We just want to get him back into the regularity, the rhythm, the everyday procedures and get back on the horse and start riding again. He's a football player competing for a job at the end of the day, and we just want to get him on that path."
Clearly, the Packers have shown their concern for Jolly the person supercedes that of Jolly the player. Not that they wouldn't enjoy it if Jolly were to come on like gangbusters and be named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year, but they're not banking on it.
Likewise, whether or not Jolly is in shape at this point in time is immaterial. He's been been gone for three years; he's been in prison; he's been on probation. And even if he has been working out, he hasn't had access to the team's state-of-the-art facilities and strength and conditioning staff.
Of course Jolly isn't in "football shape" at the moment. That's something to judge once training camp rolls around.
Based upon Jolly's meeting with the local media on Tuesday, it would seem like his head is in the right place as well. He's taking things one step at a time in trying to learn the Packers defense and keeping things in the proper perspective, just like McCarthy.
"The playbook is pretty much the same, but there's some different ways that they've taught it. I got to catch onto that," said Jolly. "But like I said, I'm just having fun. I'm one of 90 guys competing, trying to do the best that I can do to help these guys out."
The expectations for Shields are much higher, but like Jolly, the Packers have yet to take off his water wings upon the first day of his return to practice.
Shields, like so many other players on the Packers roster, enters a prove-it season. He's one of many players whose contract will expire after the 2013 season and will be looking for a lucrative multi-year deal whether with the Packers or another team.
But based upon his play late last season, Shields is in the process of becoming one of the better cover corners in the game. He's also become a much better all-around player, a more willing tackler, as opposed to 2011 when he would shy away from contact.
He now returns to a position that's among the deepest on the Packers roster with players like Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Davon House, Jarrett Bush and rookie Micah Hyde.
"Hopefully I get a starting position," said Shields on Tuesday. "I've got to compete because there's some great young guys that's here, and I've got to keep competing and keep that position."
With Shields there's reason to believe he can become a starter and make the Packers a better team in 2013. But for Jolly, the jury is still out.
At least, however, they're both back in the fold and working toward a common goal of helping the Packers become a better team this season. That's all that can be asked of them in June.
Brian Carriveau is the author of "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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