Packers coach Mike McCarthy is all smiles during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field on Saturday, July 31, 2010. He has good reason to feel confident in his team. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
Rain was falling and the sky was gloomy and gray, but as far as the Green Bay Packers were concerned, Saturday was a perfect day to open training camp at Ray Nitschke Field.
For the first time in at least three years, the only dark clouds looming over the Packers entering the start of camp were weather related. There was no quarterback controversy, no contract holdouts and no distractions.
That’s exactly the way the Packers want it, with all their focus on football.
“It’s the best I have seen in a long time,” receiver Donald Driver said of the team’s mindset.
That’s saying something, considering Driver has been around since 1999, longer than any other player on the team.
“We all (normally) have some little drama here,” Driver said. “Right now it’s one of those things we don’t have to deal with.
“That’s a good thing.”
Even the two-year saga of defensive lineman Johnny Jolly’s drug trial has fallen below the radar. When Jolly was slapped with a year-long suspension by the NFL in mid-July, the Packers moved on. Jolly’s trial is supposed to begin Monday, but it no longer carries any relevance to the Packers as it relates to this season.
Coach Mike McCarthy, who is overseeing 80 players, knows better than to take anything for granted. He initially spoke cautiously when asked about the lack of off-field drama heading into training camp.
“There’s distractions out there,” said McCarthy. “They haven’t come down the road yet. That’s just life in the National Football League. Hopefully not some as big as others in the past. That is a part of our business.”
But then, McCarthy immediately said he is excited about coaching this team.
“I think this is clearly the most mature football team that I have stood in front of in my time here,” he said.
Key veterans appear to be on board.
“Everyone comes in here with one focus, one mindset, and that’s to be great, to get better, to constantly and daily improve and focus on the task at hand,” said receiver Greg Jennings.
Jennings hasn’t forgotten the training camp circus two years ago surrounding the departure of Brett Favre. It was annoying, but also a learning experience.
“Your biggest teacher in life is experience, having that adversity, being able to overcome that amount of adversity right off the bat says a lot about our team,” said Jennings. “We grew as a team, moved forward, and now we’re here this year and we have a great opportunity in front of us.”
That type of experience can either divide or unite a team. A. J. Hawk said the latter occurred, and the effects are still being felt.
“That stuff I think in a weird way makes your team better,” Hawk said. “It makes you come together as a team.”
But Hawk wouldn’t want to endure that every year. He said he’s looking forward to “a nice, quiet training camp.”
Or at least, as quiet as 4,500 fans showing up on the opening day of practice can get.
That’s the kind of distraction the Packers welcome.
Mike Vandermause is sports editor of the Press-Gazette.