If the Green Bay Packers ever needed a full Family Night scrimmage, this is the year.
But after missing their entire offseason of work together because of the NFL owners lockout, a full Family Night scrimmage, as has become tradition, wasn’t to be.
For the third time in the last four years, bad weather invaded the Packers’ annual scrimmage at Lambeau Field, this time limiting them to only 20 minutes of football before coach Mike McCarthy pulled the team off the field, just minutes before a major downpour.
The abbreviated practice left McCarthy vacillating between seeing the advantage – a little extra time off for the players, to go with their day off tomorrow, after a long first week of training camp – and knowing his team is behind schedule compared to previous years, even if everyone else in the NFL shares the same problems with the lost offseason.
“In hindsight this may have been a little bit of a break for the football team,” McCarthy said. “I think mentally they’re worn down. We’ve accomplished a lot this week, even with the (players) day off Tuesday. I think they’re mentally challenged and worn down more than physically, in my opinion. Tonight’s break may be helpful from that standpoint.
“We have a lot of work to do. You’re probably tired of hearing me saying it, it’s just where we’re at as a team. We’ll continue to work through it, and we’ll have four practices to get ready for (a preseason game at) Cleveland next week. We’ll be ready to go when we hit Cleveland.”
The Packers have been unlucky indeed on recent Family Nights.
In 2008, the scrimmage was delayed by lightning and had a circus atmosphere because of Brett Favre’s return that day to training camp after he’d ended his retirement but before he was traded to the New York Jets.
In 2009, the scrimmage was canceled because of rain and lightning.
And then this year, the scrimmage lasted a mere 20 minutes. McCarthy had planned through four practice segments, each starting with a kickoff, then about 12 plays from scrimmage, and then a punt. But there was time for only one, with the scrimmage consisting of three possessions of the No. 1 offense against the No. 2 defense. Though the storm passed quickly enough to hold the post-practice fireworks, McCarthy was not bringing the cooled-down players back onto the field for fear of injury.
“We need to look at the Farmer’s Almanac or something,” McCarthy said. “This is unbelievable. You really feel bad for the fans. This is such a special for the families, the kids, the fireworks, the whole deal, everybody looks forward to it. I don’t know what to say. It’s unbelievable.”
McCarthy every year has a target number for team snaps from the beginning of training camp to the last preseason game, but he’s never included Family Night in that count, so in that way the Packers still are on their target. But a couple of times last week, most notably after Friday night’s practice, he talked about how much work the team needs.
In past years, the rookies would have a much better understanding of the offense and defense at this point, because they’d already have been through the nine-day installation of each system in the offseason. This year the lockout prohibited that, so they’re seeing the schemes for the first time.
“Our rookies are really starting to swim, which is acceptable,” McCarthy said. “They probably were able to get through the first three installs, but four five and six this week was a real challenge, and we’ll go Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, (installations) 7, 8, and 9. We’re still climbing uphill as a football team, that’s where we are.”
Rookie halfback Alex Green, whose only snap Saturday night was a punt, said he planned to study extra Saturday night and then Sunday on the players’ day off to get ready for this week’s work.
“(Swimming) a little bit, but I’m not drowning, so that’s a good sign,” he said. “I definitely have to stay at it.”
The veterans are much farther ahead of the rookies than they would be, though they also are learning all the changes the coaches put in during the offseason. And at this early stage in camp, it looks like the Packers’ defense is sharper than the offense.
“Yeah, missed all our OTAs, missed everything, but we did have five extra weeks of practice from the Super Bowl, a bunch of extra work in pads,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “As far as knowing assignments and (avoiding) missed assignments, at least with the (starters), it’s probably one of our lowest missed assignments and mental errors through the first week in camp compared to other (camps). It’s our third year in the system, we’ve already installed this defense five, six times already, because we usually install it two times a year. It comes back pretty easy.”
Said nose tackle B.J. Raji, who along with the rest of the No. 1 defense warmed up but didn’t get a snap: “It’s a chance of two non-hitting days after two days of knocking. At the same time, I kind of wanted to see myself on film in a game-like atmosphere because I haven’t had that since the Super Bowl.”
As far as the 20 minutes of scrimmage, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the starters had three possessions and 18 snaps total against the No. 2 defense, and that was it.
The night started horribly for the offense. On the first snap undrafted rookie Brandon Ross intercepted Rodgers’ pass to receiver James Jones and returned it about 20 yards for a touchdown. McCarthy wasn’t calling plays and didn’t have a chance immediately after the scrimmage to talk to Rodgers or his assistant coaches on whether Jones failed to make the proper route adjustment, or if Rodgers made the wrong read.
“It’s one or the other,” McCarthy said. “It didn’t work out very well – for the offense. Guess I’ll have to root for both.”
Rodgers’ second drive ended in field-goal range with a failed third-and-13 conversion from the defense’s 21. His third drive ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson.
Second-round pick Randall Cobb had the kind of play he’s seemed to make at least once every practice. On a play when linebacker Erik Walden was offsides, Rodgers took a free shot downfield to Cobb, who came back on the underthrown ball for a 38-yard catch over Ross.
“Randall has excellent ball skills,” McCarthy said. “If you get an opportunity to watch him catch kickoffs and punts, he’s exceptional. He reminds me an awful lot of Charles Woodson, it’s very natural to him, it’s effortless, there’s no struggle.”