Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers during practice in the Don Hutson Center, Friday, January 28, 2011. / File/Press-Gazette
IRVING, Texas – One of the key points for the Packers this season might have been when quarterback Aaron Rodgers went to coach Mike McCarthy after the team’s 3-3 start to ask to spend extra time meeting with his play caller.
McCarthy is the Packers’ play caller, and his head-coaching responsibilities prevent him from attending some offensive and quarterbacks meetings. So he scheduled a meeting for the two at 3 p.m. Thursday to go over any and all aspects of the game plan. They’ve been doing it every week since then.
“It’s so important to have quality time between the quarterback and the play caller,” said CBS analyst Rich Gannon, the former NFL quarterback and league MVP who worked with McCarthy from 1995 to 1998, when Gannon was with the Kansas City Chiefs and McCarthy was his quarterbacks coach. “You have to be joined at the hip. You have to be able to think alike, you have to be able to talk about situational football, you have to understand why he’s calling that play in that situation.”
The weekly meetings are far from the only reason the Packers are 10-3 since then, but Rodgers’ play has taken a jump since they started. In the first six weeks he threw 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, and since then he’s thrown 24 touchdown passes and six interceptions.
“I think it’s made a huge difference,” Gannon said. “They talk about the game plan, the base (offense) game plan, the base runs, red zone throws, third-down throws. That’s an area where they’ve really gotten better, the communication, the understanding between what Aaron’s anticipating, what he likes, what he’s comfortable with. I don’t know that enough play callers do a good enough job with that.
“I know from my time with (former Oakland coach Jon) Gruden, where he was the head coach but he was in every quarterback meeting, we spent so much time together I could finish his sentences, to then going to Norv Turner one year where Norv wasn’t necessarily at the quarterback meeting room and Norv was calling plays, and I didn’t understand necessarily what he was thinking. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
Because of inclement weather the Packers probably will have to practice inside all week at the indoor facility at Highland Park High School in Dallas rather than in Southern Methodist University’s outdoor stadium.
Wednesday was the Packers’ first day of practice this week, and with the recent snow and ice in the Dallas area the field at SMU was unplayable. The high temperature in the Dallas area was 21 degrees, and the forecast calls for a high of 25 degrees today and 30 degrees Friday, the last day of practice for the week. In a news conference before practice Wednesday, McCarthy said he expected to be inside the first two days and probably Friday.
Though the indoor facility is at a high school, McCarthy after the workout told the pool reporter covering the workout that it’s big enough to accommodate a normal practice. The pool report said the Packers players were wide-eyed about the facility, instead.
“The players rolled their eyes at first when I told them where we were going to work,” McCarthy said afterward. “I said, ‘Now, just hold on. This is Texas football.’ My daughter went to Lake Travis High School (in Austin), and their facilities are similar to this. I don’t think anybody was disappointed when they walked through the doors.”
The Packers’ pool report said their practice was about 25 minutes shorter than their usual Wednesday practice, in part because they conducted some of their preliminary work at the team hotel rather than on the field.
“The guys are fresh, they’re ready,” McCarthy said after practice. “I want to keep the risk for injury low leading up to the game, which is why we shortened some things today. But it was good to get back in pads. The guys were flying around; they were banging pretty good. I feel very good about the quality of work, particularly up front. I did not put the pads on them last week because we were coming off a situation where we had played five must-win games in a row, and our linemen were beat up. I wanted to make sure I gave them a chance to get back, and it definitely paid off today.”
The Packers listed only four players on the injury report: tackle Chad Clifton (knees), guard Jason Spitz (calf) and linebacker Erik Walden (ankle) were limited, and linebacker Frank Zombo was a full participant. The only one who bears watching for Sunday in Walden, a starter who worked primarily with the second team Wednesday.
“How Erik responds to this practice will be big,” McCarthy said. “He practiced and took reps in every team drill. That was the high end of what we were going to try to give him today. It’ll be great if he feels good tomorrow.
“Frank looks good. I wanted to get him as much padded work as possible. It seems like Dec. 12 is the last time he’s been in pads. We even got him a bunch of reps on special teams, too.”
According to the Steelers’ pool report, the team conducted a 1-hour, 58-minute workout at the indoor facility on the campus of TCU, where school was closed because of the ice storm earlier this week. Center Maurkice Pouncey (high ankle sprain) didn’t practice, and defensive end Aaron Smith (torn triceps) was in uniform but limited. Neither is expected to play this week, though Pouncey’s chances might be modestly better than Smith’s.
“The Steelers seemed loose and comfortable in their surroundings despite the chilly feel that had some players dressed like it was an outdoor December practice on the South Side of Pittsburgh,” the pool report said. “The Steelers re-installed much of their Super Bowl game plan that was begun last week in Pittsburgh, with some extra emphasis on red-zone defense.”
According to a report in Newsday, Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins’ father has been missing since leaving for a trip to Hawaii in December. Darome Jenkins raised Cullen and his brother, NFL defensive lineman Kris Jenkins, as a single father. Cullen Jenkins brought up his father’s disappearance during Media Day on Tuesday hoping his father might see a story about it and contact them. He also has set aside a ticket for his father, according to a story on ESPNMilwaukee.com.
“It was just me, my dad and Kris growing up,” Jenkins said. “So we were very close. He worked a lot to take care of us. And he did a good job of it. You get a little worried, you know? You wonder if he’s all right.”