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BYU's Poppinga fighting to start for Pack

Brady Poppinga
Brady Poppinga

Brady Poppinga says championship teams need players who care only about winning, not about who gets to stand in the spotlight.

The veteran Green Bay Packers linebacker insists he's one of those guys.

"You can't lose focus on what's truly important, and what's truly important is winning a championship," Poppinga said. "You look at the model, it's the New England Patriots. I think they're one of the most successful teams this decade, that's the model that they've established and worked for them. (They) have a bunch of team guys, whether this guy gets the credit or that guy gets the credit, they don't care. They want to win the Super Bowl."

But don't take that to mean that Poppinga isn't excited about the prospect of leapfrogging a pair of recent high-profile draft picks to open the season as a starting outside linebacker in the Packers' new 3-4 defense.

"It does not mean that I'm not ambitious, and that I'm not giving my very best and I'm not going to go out and strive to be whatever I need to be in order to help this team win," Poppinga said.

For the moment, at least, the Packers need Poppinga to start.

The fifth-year veteran wasn't expected to be in this position coming into training camp, given the competition at outside linebacker. Despite having to make the difficult transition from pass-rushing defensive end to outside linebacker, Aaron Kampman wasn't going to be challenged for a starting job on one side.

And Poppinga had a pair of recent draft picks in front of him on the other side, first-round rookie Clay Matthews III and last year's fourth-round pick, Jeremy Thompson. But Thompson is gradually returning to action after sustaining a stinger, and Matthews continues to sit out with a nagging hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, Poppinga came up with an interception and a fumble recovery in Saturday's preseason victory over Buffalo.

"He's taken advantage of his opportunities, and you like to see that," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Brady has the kind of temperament you like on defense. He's a physical player, he plays the run well, he's going to give you everything he has. And he certainly was in the right place Saturday night."

Nobody questions Poppinga's intense attitude and physical playing style, but there are questions about whether he has full skill set to make the job his own.

As an outside linebacker in the 3-4, Poppinga will be expected to drop into pass coverage on one play and power-rush an offensive lineman the next. And given Poppinga's three sacks in 60 career games, there are questions about his pass-rush ability.

Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene insists Poppinga is a good fit in Capers' version of the 3-4, in which outside linebackers are coached to charge straight ahead and collapse the pocket instead of rushing upfield in an attempt to beat an offensive tackle around the outside.

"He's a physical pass rusher," Greene said. "And then everything else opens up, once you establish the violent, physical nature of the game. That's how I played. And that's how I'm coaching these guys."

When it comes to evaluating Poppinga's ability, Capers said he can only go on what he has seen in practice and preseason games — and he likes what he sees so far.

"He's showed it to this point," Capers said. "I have no reason to believe that he can't."

Poppinga will turn 30 next month, having delayed his entry to BYU by going on a two-year Mormon mission to Uruguay. And Poppinga continued his volunteer work this offseason.

Poppinga and his wife went with fellow linebacker A.J. Hawk and his wife to the Dominican Republic, where they worked to install running water in the town of San Cristobal.

"Now they have full-blown pipes, running water coming to each house, and it saves them a lot of time," Poppinga said. "So many people waste time just to survive, whereas we have water, food and shelter — we take it for granted, and now we're freed up to pursue whatever desires and endeavors we have. Now they have that opportunity."

Poppinga now has an opportunity of his own on the field, but insists personal success isn't his goal.

"Is it what drives me, the source of my desire? No," Poppinga said. "I want to win a championship."

FAVRE SCHISM? And here we thought the Vikings' addition of Brett Favre was supposed to dial down the potential for controversy at the quarterback position.

A little more than a week after Favre ended his latest retirement, ESPN posted a story on its Web site Wednesday afternoon that cited a source saying there was a "schism" in the Vikings' locker room over who should start at quarterback and that Favre has "little support" among his new teammates.

ESPN and Pro Football Talk had issued earlier reports that some players believe Tarvaris Jackson should be the starter, and the latest ESPN story said others think it should be Sage Rosenfels.

"I've seen the same reports that you've seen," Vikings coach Brad Childress said before the latest ESPN story was posted. "Those are opinions. It's hard to shoot holes in an opinion. An opinion is just that, it's an opinion. So, I certainly don't see anything that looks close to that."

SANCHEZ NAMED JETS QB: A person familiar with the decision says rookie Mark Sanchez has been named the New York Jets' starting quarterback.

Sanchez, the fifth overall draft pick out of Southern California, beat out veteran Kellen Clemens with a solid training camp and will be under center for the Jets' season opener at Houston on Sept. 13. The person requested anonymity Wednesday because they were not authorized to discuss the decision.

CABLE TO BE INVESTIGATED: Investigators are planning to interview Oakland Raiders coach Tom Cable about an alleged altercation that ended with assistant Randy Hanson in the hospital.

A spokesperson for the Napa police department told ESPN.com on Wednesday that Cable would be interviewed as part of the investigation, but did not provide a date. Hanson was hospitalized with a broken bone in his face following the Aug. 5 attack that he told police was initiated by a member of the Raiders coaching staff at the team's training camp hotel in Napa. Internet reports said Cable attacked Hanson during a meeting with some of the team's defensive coaches.

Cable has said nothing happened. The NFL also is investigating

49ERS HILL HAS SORE BACK: Two days after the 49ers settled on Shaun Hill as their starting quarterback, Hill was on the sideline with a sore back while his understudies ran practice.

Coach Mike Singletary said Hill strained his lower back during Tuesday's practice by pushing himself too hard. Hill went through the early stages of Wednesday's session without a hitch. But after one throw in the team portion of the practice, he was finished for the day.

Though Hill gave a thumbs-up signal while jogging into the locker room and said he'd "definitely" play Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys, Singletary said he wasn't so sure.

"It'll be day-to-day," Singletary said.

The 49ers are already without Alex Smith, who watched his second straight practice with his right (throwing) thumb in a plastic cast. Smith injured the thumb while tackling a Raiders linebacker Saturday, and he has been ruled out for the Cowboys game.

BRONCOS SIGN QB: With backup ChrisSimms hobbled by an ankle injury, the Denver Broncos moved to bolster their depth at quarterback Wednesday by signing free agent IngleMartin.

Simms suffered a high ankle sprain when Seahawks pass rusher Nick Reed fell on his left ankle during the third quarter of Saturday's 27-13 loss at Seattle, and the Broncos have not said how long Simms is expected to be sidelined.

The loss of Simms left starter Kyle Orton and rookie Tom Brandstater as the only healthy quarterbacks on the Broncos roster.