Originally created 08/18/99

Levens is back, looking better than ever



GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Practice was finished, Dorsey Levens wasn't.

While the rest of the Green Bay Packers hit the showers Tuesday morning, Levens and teammates William Henderson and Edwin Watson ran wind sprints. Sweating under his shoulder pads, Levens grunted with each turn and reverse, pushing himself a little bit harder into the next trip across the field.

The extra workout was Levens' idea. Teammates and coaches alike have noticed renewed dedication in Levens, a Pro Bowl starter two seasons ago who held out through last year's training camp and then had a terrible season marred by injury.

Since the first minicamp of spring, it has been clear Levens, a former Georgia Tech star, doesn't want to fail his teammates or himself again.

"I don't love to work hard," Levens said. "It's just necessary if you want to be one of the best. Deep down inside, I think that if I don't work this hard, I won't be doing the best that I can do."

At this time last year, Levens was being called greedy, egotistical and selfish. He eventually received a five-year, $25 million contract after a protracted holdout, but the money came at the cost of his 1998 season.

"That deal could have got done a lot sooner, but it didn't," Levens said. "I think that's just a distraction. I'm trying to start off on the right foot this year."

Levens worked out faithfully during his holdout but wasn't in game shape. In the Packers' second game, he sprained his right ankle so severely it fractured a bone in his leg.

He missed Green Bay's next nine games and was inconsistent when he returned, finishing with just 378 rushing yards in seven games. His best effort of the season came in the Packers' playoff loss to San Francisco, when he rushed for 116 yards and caught six passes.

"I think last year hurt Dorsey personally," offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis said. "He's a guy with a lot of pride in himself and in his game, and to have the holdout and then his struggles, that didn't feel good. He's on a mission now."

While Levens struggled, the Packers' rushing game dried up. Green Bay finished 25th in the league with 95.4 rushing yards per game, a sharp decrease from the team average during the Packers' two Super Bowl seasons.

If Levens feels any resentment that the Packers agreed to wide receiver Antonio Freeman's demands much sooner than his, he isn't showing it. Levens said he's happy Freeman didn't have to endure the uncertainties and frustrations of a long holdout.

"They didn't want the same thing to happen to Free," Levens said. "That was a bad situation, and I'm glad they avoided it."

He's also excited about being the featured back in an offense that finally looks whole. With Brett Favre, Mark Chmura, Levens, Henderson and Freeman locked up in long-term contracts, Green Bay has its offensive skill positions solidified through the next half-decade.

"We know each other pretty well, and I think we've got the potential to do a lot of pretty good things," Levens said.

Levens worked his way up the ladder in Green Bay, playing infrequently as a blocking back for Edgar Bennett his first two years. When Bennett tore his Achilles' tendon early in the 1997 season, Levens stepped in and rushed for 1,435 yards, earning a Pro Bowl start.

Levens has an unusual mix of talents. At 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds, he's big enough to be an effective blocker, but he also has speed and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.

But the fact remains Levens has had just one standout season in four years in the league. Coach Ray Rhodes hadn't heard entirely positive reviews of Levens when he arrived in Green Bay last January, but he quickly learned Levens was committed to returning to form.

"People say things that you file away, but Dorsey has been a leader on this offense," Rhodes said. "He knows he can play again like he did in '97, and that's why he's out here working hard."