Donald Driver not looking at retirement
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Donald Driver doesn't think the end of his career is near. He's 36 and wants to play until he's 40.
Still, the veteran Green Bay Packers receiver is close enough to retirement to start thinking about how his time with the team might end. After watching close friend Brett Favre go through an ugly divorce with the Packers in 2008, Driver doesn't see himself going down the same path with the team's front office.
"I don't think I'll ever get to the point where I'm so bitter and I'm so upset at those guys," Driver said. "I think I can walk away, give those guys a big hug and say, 'Hey, I appreciate it,' and retire and put the cleats on the shelf and have some fun."
That said, Driver won't rule out finishing his career with another team if the Packers decide he's no longer in their plans and he still feels he has something left.
"If they say, 'Donald, we're going a different route,' I respect that," Driver said. "I can't do anything about it. But if I still feel like I'm playing at a high level, then maybe I can go somewhere else and play. Do I want to do that? No. But it's a business decision, and I'm going to continue playing if I still feel l can play."
That doesn't seem likely -- not yet, anyway.
Driver has two years left on his contract and is only 41 yards shy of James Lofton's franchise-record 9,656 career yards receiving.
Despite an ankle injury that knocked him out of the Super Bowl and disrupted his offseason workout program, Driver's coaches say he has looked like himself in training camp so far.
"He looks good," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He came back in good shape. You know him, he's a dedicated athlete. The guy's a professional."
Statistics, however, paint a picture of a receiver who might be in decline.
His six-year streak of 1,000-plus yards receiving ended last season, and his yards after the catch -- a focal point in the Packers' offense -- decreased dramatically.
According to STATS LLC, Driver gained a total of 190 yards after the catch last season after gaining 365 yards or more in each of the previous three seasons. Driver gained an average of 3.7 yards after the catch per reception after averaging 4.9 yards or better in each of the previous three seasons.
Packers wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett said Driver's injuries played a role in his decreased productivity. Driver missed the Nov. 7 game against Dallas with a quadriceps injury, the first time he had missed a game because of injury since 2003.
"(He) had some injuries," Bennett said. "I think that had something to do with it as well. But from a team standpoint, a lot of our guys had more opportunities, and that had a little to do with it as well. It's more about the team. It's more about making the most of our opportunities when we're in there."
Philbin said one of the first signs that a receiver's time is coming to an end is when he can't beat a defensive back in one-on-one press coverage. Philbin isn't seeing that with Driver so far in camp.
"I haven't noticed a huge decline, like, 'Wow, he can't run that route any more, we've got to get him out of there,'" Philbin said.
Driver couldn't stick to his typical offseason workout program because his ankle had to heal. Driver said he was fortunate in some ways that the NFL lockout eliminated organized offseason workouts.
"The lockout, it kind of saved me because I didn't have to rush back to prove anyone wrong," Driver said. "One thing I've always tried to do year-in and year-out is come back and try to prove people wrong, that I can bounce back quick. So the lockout saved me, it gave me the opportunity to let everything heal on its own and just take its course."
Any receiver will have to be in top shape to get his fair share of opportunities in an offense stocked with talent.
Greg Jennings is the Packers' undisputed No. 1. James Jones re-signed with the Packers after exploring the free agent market, and Jordy Nelson is back. Playmaking tight end Jermichael Finley is returning from a knee injury -- and second-round draft pick Randall Cobb, a wide receiver from Kentucky, has been impressive in camp.
With so much talent around him, Driver said he accepts that there might come a day when he's no longer a starter.
"If it got to that point, if they made a decision to say, 'Hey, Donald, we're not going to start you,' I'm OK with it," Driver said. "It's not going to be the first time I haven't started a game, it won't be my last. So I think you just have to go out there and when the ball comes to you, you have to make the best of it. To me, I'm fine with that."
Driver said that conversation hasn't happened so far.
"No, I'm still the starter," Driver said. "That hasn't changed."
Even as a veteran with a Super Bowl ring, Bennett said Driver hasn't lost any of the motivation he had when he was an unproven seventh-round pick in 1999.
"Given his background, and how he came up through the challenges, where he basically had to fight his way to the top and had to work for everything, nothing was given to him, you don't lose that hunger," Bennett said. "You don't forget that."
NotesPackers coach Mike McCarthy said defensive lineman Mike Neal is "day to day" after hurting his left knee in practice Tuesday. It is unclear if he will play in Friday's preseason game against Arizona.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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