Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers during practice in the Don Hutson Center, Friday, January 28, 2011. / File/Press-Gazette
Perhaps a change of scenery for the next seven days is just what the Packers need.
No sooner did the players finish their last practice in Green Bay for this season Sunday afternoon than they packed their green-and-gold equipment bags with helmets, pads, cleats and other essentials in the Lambeau Field locker room.
“Frankly, we’re really ready to get to Dallas,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
Getting to the site of Super Bowl XLV — the team has a chartered flight out of Austin Straubel International Airport early Monday afternoon — can’t come soon enough for the Packers.
An off week between the NFC championship game at Chicago on Jan. 23 and Super Bowl week that kicks into high gear Monday ended with three straight days of practice at the Don Hutson Center but included plenty of off-field drama.
McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers after practice Sunday tried to put to rest the latest controversy stemming from the Super Bowl team photo.
Rodgers, unprovoked by a question at his locker after Saturday’s practice, made some critical comments directed toward unnamed teammates who are on injured reserve and didn’t stay in Green Bay during the season for medical attention.
Those comments weren’t received well by linebacker Nick Barnett or tight end Jermichael Finley, who responded harshly via posts on their Twitter accounts Saturday. Barnett and Finley are on IR and have been rehabbing the last several weeks away from Green Bay.
Barnett later Saturday apologized on Twitter, writing he didn’t want to be a distraction as the team prepares for Super Bowl XLV, and he subsequently closed his Twitter account.
McCarthy on Sunday repeatedly said “it’s a nonissue” when asked about the latest episode in a series of events that started early last week, when Barnett and Finley expressed frustration on Twitter that the IR guys weren’t going to be in the team photo taken during Super Bowl week.
The photo was scheduled for Tuesday in North Texas, but at the urging of Rodgers and fellow playoffs captain Charles Woodson, McCarthy pushed that back to Friday so all players, including the 16 on IR who will join the team Thursday, will be included.
McCarthy said he wasn’t really bothered by Saturday’s turn of events, triggered by what Rodgers had to say.
“It’s a nonissue with me, and I know it’s a nonissue with our football team,” McCarthy said. “I know Aaron and Nick spoke yesterday. So, it’s a nonissue.”
Rodgers confirmed in a one-on-one conversation with the Press-Gazette at his locker during media availability following Sunday’s practice that he spoke with Barnett on Saturday.
“Everything’s great. It’s a nonissue,” Rodgers said.
Not far from Rodgers’ locker, linebacker Clay Matthews injected some levity to the photo flap.
When told Rodgers and Barnett connected, Matthews said, “Good. That’s what I like to hear. Good teammates just really solving their issues and everything.
“This whole thing is ridiculous,” Matthews added. “Who knows and who cares, really. They’ll be in the picture. We’ll be in the picture. And we’ll all be playing as a team. There’s really not a whole lot to say about it. It is pretty comical, I will say that.”
McCarthy doesn’t expect to have to smooth things over with players this week in Texas, especially when the IR guys arrive.
“We’re all grown men,” McCarthy said. “Sometimes, little things turn into big things. That’s one of the messages that you share throughout the season, and that’s a clear case of it.”
Waiting on Walden
Linebacker Erik Walden was the only player who didn’t participate in the three days of practice in Green Bay.
Walden is recovering from a left ankle sprain that knocked him out of the NFC championship game in the second half.
McCarthy said the team is looking to have Walden back on the field Wednesday, the team’s first day of practice at Southern Methodist University before the Super Bowl.
“He’ll go through an examination Wednesday morning,” McCarthy said. “The plan is to see if he can go Wednesday, just to see where he is.”
If Walden is cleared to play, McCarthy said he would remain the starter at right outside linebacker, even though former starter Frank Zombo returned to practice last week after missing six games because of a knee sprain.
“He’s not going to be replaced because of an injury,” McCarthy said. “He’s earned that through his production down the stretch here.”
Matthews is among the top candidates for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Award, which will be announced Monday after the Packers’ arrival in Dallas.
The second-year player didn’t allow himself Sunday to get excited about possibly hearing his name announced as the winner, a year after Woodson earned the honor.
“I’m happy that we’re in the Super Bowl, one of two teams out of 32 that’s in this position right now,” Matthews said. “That’s what I’ll be looking forward to the most, is playing in this game.”
Coaches in holding pattern
Safeties coach Darren Perry has emerged in recent days as a hot commodity for teams that are seeking a defensive coordinator. Perry’s name has been linked to openings with Philadelphia, Arizona and Oakland in various reports.
Perry wouldn’t say Sunday whether he’s been contacted by any teams, terming what’s been reported “just speculation.”
Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac and assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach Winston Moss also may be drawing interest elsewhere.
The coaches can’t be interviewed until after the Super Bowl.
Trgovac, who was the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers before coming to the Packers in 2009, said Sunday he wants to be a coordinator again but insisted he’s staying in Green Bay beyond this season.
“It’s just not the right time for me right now,” Trgovac said. “When my wife (Angela) and I decided to make this move here, it was definitely a three-year commitment. We weren’t going to move my (high school-aged) daughter again. That’s one of the things we talked about.”
— Todd McMahon is editor of The De Pere Journal.