The Green Bay Packers spent a sizable portion of their offseason waiting for a chance to acquire quarterback Tim Couch. Despite the former top overall draft pick's failure in Cleveland, the Packers thought Couch still had plenty of ability and would be an upgrade to Doug Pederson as Brett Favre's primary backup this season, and perhaps could be groomed to be the successor to Favre, who is expected to play one to three more seasons.

So the Packers stayed after Couch for months, first trying to craft a trade with the Browns for him -- which failed because Couch and agent Tom Condon would not agree to a two-year deal as part of the contract renegotiation needed for a trade to be completed -- and then signing him to a one-year, $1.25 million deal in June after Cleveland finally released him.

The Packers, at least so far, merely are feeling the Browns' pain, as Couch continues his struggles.

He looks incapable of supplanting Pederson as Favre's top backup entering the season and could put his roster spot in jeopardy if his downward spiral continues. The Packers say they are sticking by Couch, 27, but their fans have turned on him. They booed him when he completed only two of 11 passes for 18 yards, was sacked twice and fumbled once in relief of Favre in a 21-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field on Monday in the preseason opener, and cheered loudly when the 36-year-old Pederson replaced him.

Couch has been plagued by a sore arm in training camp and wasn't cleared to play against Seattle until pregame warmups. Many of his throws in this week's practices have continued to lack zip. He also has had difficulty picking up Green Bay's version of the West Coast offense, although Favre came to his defense Wednesday and told reporters that everyone struggles with the nuances of the system.

Couch is slated to receive extensive playing time Saturday against the New Orleans Saints at Lambeau. The entire exercise of identifying Favre's backup could be meaningless, given Favre's durability. He has made 208 straight starts, including the postseason. But, unless Couch improves dramatically, the Packers appear to have little choice but to open the season with Pederson behind Favre and Couch third on the depth chart -- provided that the club doesn't give up on Couch and keep third-year pro Craig Nall or Scott McBrien, an undrafted rookie from the University of Maryland, ahead of him.

Carmen Policy said when he resigned as the Browns' president during the offseason that Couch's failure had been one of his biggest disappointments in Cleveland. Every interception that Couch threw, Policy said, felt like a dagger to the heart. The Packers don't have nearly as much time or money invested in Couch as the Browns did. But they are beginning to have an idea what Policy was talking about.

Panthers Better on D?

It's possible that this season's Carolina Panthers' defense could be better than the unit that helped the club to reach the Super Bowl last season.

The Panthers have added first-round draft choice Chris Gamble at one cornerback spot, and second-year pro Ricky Manning Jr. has cemented his status as a full-time starter at the other. Middle linebacker Dan Morgan is healthy again after missing five games last season. Including the postseason, Carolina was 11-1 last season in games that he played in their entirety. And outside linebacker Mark Fields is back in the lineup. He missed all of last season after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. Fields was told by his doctors in July that he is cancer-free, he says, after undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and he and the Carolina coaches are hopeful that he can regain the form that produced 71/2 sacks in 2002. His replacement, Greg Favors, had no sacks last season.

The Panthers lost free safety Deon Grant in free agency and have replaced him with Colin Branch. But their powerful defensive line returns intact with tackles Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner and ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker. . . . .

Quarterback Chris Weinke has been practicing with Carolina's second-team offense this week, ahead of Rodney Peete. But for a second straight game, Coach John Fox wouldn't say whether Weinke or Peete will follow starter Jake Delhomme in tonight's preseason game against the New York Giants, calling it a game-time decision.

Peete followed Delhomme in Saturday's 23-20 overtime win over the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. But Weinke was the standout, throwing touchdown passes of 42 and 68 yards to rookie wide receiver Keary Colbert.

Gallery Out

Left tackle Robert Gallery, the second overall pick in the draft, has sat out the Oakland Raiders' practices the last two days and probably won't play in Saturday's preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys after suffering a sprained right elbow Monday. But he and the team continue to say the injury isn't serious. . . .

The St. Louis Rams released center Dave Wohlabaugh, who needs at least three more months to recover from offseason hip surgery. . . . Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson, a former starter for Cincinnati just released by Buffalo, worked out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. . . .

Agent Drew Rosenhaus arranged for defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, absent from the Miami Dolphins' camp because of a contract dispute, to speak to South Florida reporters on Wednesday. Ogunleye reiterated his commitment to sitting out the first 10 games of the season if the Dolphins don't sign him to what he regards as a suitable long-term contract. He would report to the team for the final six games to receive credit for the season and be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring. Rosenhaus plans to make a new proposal to the Dolphins today or Friday. . . .

The Browns are dangling third-string tailback James Jackson in trade discussions with the Dolphins but are adamant that they won't part with either of their starting wide receivers, Andre Davis or Quincy Morgan, an NFL source confirmed this morning. . . .

Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Kenny King needs surgery on his right wrist and probably will be sidelined for the entire season. He had been penciled in to be a starter, with rookie Darnell Dockett having been moved from tackle to left end this week to accommodate that plan. . . .

Free-agent defensive end Kenny Holmes, who had 51/2 sacks in nine games for the Giants last season before undergoing knee surgery in November, has made two visits to the Packers and also has drawn interest from the Dolphins and Buccaneers. But no team has offered him more than a minimum-salary contract, and he and agent Mitch Frankel are in no hurry to sign. . . .

The Packers and Tennessee Titans are among the clubs that have expressed interest in free-agent defensive end Chad Bratzke, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, but Bratzke is seeking a 2004 salary of at least $1.5 million. . . . The Giants will be without defensive end Keith Washington for about three weeks; he broke a bone in his left eye socket last week. . . . Raiders linebacker Sam Williams underwent surgery Wednesday for a torn left labrum and could miss the entire season.