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Jolly rejoins Packers: "Blessed to be here"

The SportsXchange

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy previously said minicamp would be more of the same as the previous two weeks of organized team activities went.

Two notable differences stood out, however, as the players and coaches reconvened for the first day of the minicamp on Tuesday. In uniform and on the field for the first time this spring were cornerback Sam Shields and defensive tackle Johnny Jolly.

Shields, an incumbent starter, rejoined his teammates after the restricted free agent finally signed the team's one-year tender of $2.023 million a day earlier.

Jolly, 30, served an indefinite suspension from the NFL stemming from repeated violations of its substance-abuse policy since July 2010. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated Jolly in March this year.

However, Jolly had to fulfill some legal obligations, including a court-ordered drug treatment program in his hometown of Houston, before he could return to Green Bay for football. The Packers have Jolly under contract for a year at a reduced salary of $715,000.

While Shields is angling to get a lucrative multiyear contract from the team, McCarthy didn't scold the playmaker -- at least publicly -- for the protest of sorts that was waged by him not showing up for the earlier voluntary spring workouts. In fact, Shields jumped in for some reps with the first-string defense as the mandatory minicamp for those under contract got under way.

As Shields plays catch-up after missing the first seven weeks of the spring program, he could be in the throes of fighting for regular playing time. Green Bay has a logjam at cornerback with veteran Tramon Williams, Shields and young prospects Casey Hayward and Davon House, the latter of whom still hasn't been cleared for on-field work after missing most of last season because of a shoulder injury.

"It's a very, very competitive position, our cornerbacks, along with a lot of other positions," McCarthy said. "But this (the minicamp) is about installation, getting the scheme in, extra time on the fundamentals. This is the learning part that's so important for the development of each and every player, and Sam's definitely one of those. We have time for the competition and everything to sort itself out in training camp."

The Packers also are willing to give the previously exiled Jolly time in his attempt to make a rare comeback and play after such a lengthy layoff.

Jolly, like Shields, is on a limited-reps schedule during minicamp, which will consist of only two practice days on Tuesday and Wednesday. The final day of minicamp on Thursday is set aside for what has annually been a team-bonding activity away from team facilities.

"I'm blessed to be here," Jolly said after Tuesday's practice.

Teammates, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers, welcomed Jolly with open arms and big smiles as the Packers went inside for the practice because of rain.

"The biggest thing for Johnny Jolly is to just be one of the 90 (players on the roster), and that's really the way I want to go about it," McCarthy said. "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 of it I'm not really worried about. I just want to make sure he gets into a routine."

McCarthy said he and general manager Ted Thompson met separately with Jolly at length about a month ago in Green Bay to discuss his future with the team.

From McCarthy's standpoint, there was no second thought about allowing Jolly to stay with the Packers and get back on the football field.

"Not at all. None. None whatsoever," McCarthy said.

"Well, we're going to find out," he added, when asked about how daunting the challenge could be for Jolly after he last played a game Jan. 10, 2010. "If an individual can do it, I believe Johnny Jolly is that man. He has the toughness, the drive, the passion, you can see. ... He's definitely someone that you know can do it.

"This is more of a question about life and second chances. We feel that he's gone through the necessary rehabilitation and training to get to this spot, and I'm excited to give him this opportunity."

McCarthy wants to see Jolly get into a consistent routine.

"Regularity is important to everybody, especially a professional athlete," he said. "We just want to get him back into the regularity, the rhythm and 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."

For his part, Jolly acknowledged he's not where he needs to be for adequate football-playing shape. The medical staff administered a physical exam on Monday, and Jolly's weight was 340 pounds, which is 10 pounds more than what he was accustomed to playing.

"That part -- football shape -- comes around (training) camp time," Jolly, a fifth-year player, said. "I stayed active. I lifted, did some things while I could work out. I (played) a little basketball."

Jolly was arrested multiple times the last three years and spent six months in prison, the harsh repercussions primarily brought on by having a good amount of codeine in his possession.

"I was a bad man," Jolly said in retrospect Tuesday. "It was crazy. I knew I needed to chill, but it was like I was getting a thrill out of what I was doing. So I was just doing.

"In my heart, I was like, 'I need to chill. I'm a football player. I need to take care of myself.' But sometimes you lose focus, and you can't get yourself back on track. So God sits you down and puts you back on track. That's what happened to me. I hate that I had to go through that, but it was a lesson learned."

And now?

"I haven't had (any) codeine in almost two years ... probably 19 months," Jolly said. "My body feels great. I feel good, ready to play."
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