GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A quick glance at the Green Bay Packers' practice field this summer reveals some of the best players in the NFL. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the reigning MVP. Linebacker Clay Matthews is one of the league's top pass-rushers and defensive back Charles Woodson is a future Hall of Famer.
It took only a few minutes, however, to realize that receiver Donald Driver is the fan favorite here at Packers training camp. Whether it was his victory in "Dancing With the Stars," his decision to accept a pay cut to remain with the franchise or the phenomenal condition he reported to camp in, Driver elicits a roar for every step he takes downfield.
Driver usually returns the favor with a wave or a few words to fans in the bleachers, and at this point there is no doubt in my mind that he has a roster spot locked down despite a deep group of young receivers who would likely be lost if they are waived later this summer.
" As you can see out there, I'm having a lot of fun," Driver said. "I'm enjoying the game. When I stop enjoying the game, it's over for me. Now, I'm still having fun."
Driver produced seven 1,000-yard seasons over an eight-year stretch before dropping to 565 yards in 2010 and 445 last season. He is 37, and the Packers not only have a young receiver in Randall Cobb to get on the field, but also have two youngsters -- Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel -- who are hoping to join Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and James Jones on the final roster.
But the Packers guaranteed him $500,000 as part of a $2.5 million contract he signed in May, and this week general manager Ted Thompson said: "Donald's an unusual athlete. Remarkable in some ways. The age doesn't necessarily tell the whole story."
Indeed, telling Driver's story at this point is easy. He has maintained superb physical condition -- "Age is a just a number," he said -- and he has once again convinced himself he is surrounded by "critics" who "doubt" him.
I don't think Driver has been criticized or doubted; simply, people who understand the how the NFL works wondered if Thompson would see fit to keep a 37-year-old receiver when he seemingly has sufficient options elsewhere.
But whatever works, right?
"In 14 years," he said, "I've never got comfortable. Anything can happen. I'm always prepared for the worst. I'm going to continue to play that way. I'm going to continue to play with a grudge. And hopefully when it's all said and done I've proven all the criticism wrong, because I've done that my whole career and I want to continue to."
This week, in fact, has proved a perfect example why the Packers weren't in a rush to part ways with a receiver who might have declined from his peak but by all accounts can still contribute. An elbow injury has sidelined receiver Greg Jennings, turning the luxury of Driver's depth into more of a necessity.
I know there are lots of Packers fans obsessing about the futures of Gurley and Borel. I say this: If they're good enough to make this team, the Packers will find a way to get them on the roster, even if it means keeping six or seven receivers in the final analysis.
Driver, it's clear, is feeling too good and having too much fun to make it easy on anyone.
"You've got to continue to feel great," he said. "That day that you don't want to get out of that bed, it's over for you. For some reason, at six o'clock, I still jump out thee bed. The day you hit the snooze button, it's over for you."