Corner should be ready for Bears
In a maneuver that all but confirms Mike McKenzie will belatedly open his season in Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers on Saturday moved the veteran cornerback from the exempt/commissioner list to the 53-man active roster.
To create a roster spot for McKenzie, who ended his lengthy holdout on Wednesday, the Packers waived rookie tight end Sean McHugh. The former Penn State star, originally a seventh-round pick of the Tennessee Titans, had been signed by the Packers on Sept. 6, and saw action in last week's season opener.
While there was no announcement from Green Bay officials about whether McKenzie will play on Sunday, a team source said the Packers would not have removed the five-year veteran from the exempt list if he wasn't part of the game plan. The Packers had received a two-week roster exemption for McKenzie, who sat out of all of training camp and the preseason in a contract dispute, and could have kept him inactive into next week.
McKenzie is not expected to start but, from conversations with teammates and coaches, it seems he is set to at least play in the "dime" package, perhaps as many as 15-20 snaps. He could return to his starting spot at left cornerback next week.
Michael Hawthorne who started in McKenzie's spot last week, and played exceptionally well, will remain there for the game against the Bears.
Packers coach/general manager Mike Sherman closed practice to the media this week, but some of McKenzie's teammates said the cornerback, who contended through agent Drew Rosenhaus that he still prefers to be traded, appeared to be in very good shape for a player who had spent the entire offseason working on his own.
Even Sherman conceded that McKenzie performed beyond expectations in practice.
"We keep trying to push the envelope in regard to Mike's adaptability to the defense and also to the game because he hasn't been out there very much," Sherman said. "He has made quite good progress this week. I think he's improved. I wouldn't put him out there if he was not in pretty good shape, which he is."
McKenzie, of course, boycotted the offseason program because he felt that his contract, extended by five years late in the 2001 season when he was on the cusp of restricted free agency, was now obsolete. He is due base salaries of $2.75 million this season, then $3.43 million in 2005 and $4.1 million in 2006.
He forfeited one-seventeenth of his 2004 base salary, $161,764, by missing Monday night's game. It is believed that McKenzie was being fined $5,000 per day missed in camp, the maximum permitted by the collective bargaining agreement.
In five seasons, McKenzie has started in 67 of 69 appearances, posting 286 tackles, 15 interceptions and 70 passes defensed.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.