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Mike Vandermause column: Talent-laden Packers must prove it on the field

May 22, 2012
 

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Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy monitors OTA practice Tuesday at Ray Nitschke Field. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette

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Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy had a bold message for his players Tuesday morning.

“This is clearly the most experienced football team in conjunction with the most talent that I've had a chance to coach,” is what McCarthy told his team prior to the Packers’ first practice during organized team activities.

That’s a mouthful, considering the Packers claimed a Super Bowl title two years ago and won 15 regular-season games last season.

“It says a lot,” said 12th-year defensive lineman Ryan Pickett. “(We’re) definitely loaded with talent again at every position.”

It suggests the Packers have the potential to be even better than the past two years and can contend for another championship. But more immediately, it puts many players on notice that their jobs aren’t secure.

Every snap in every practice has meaning, even when conducted in shorts and helmets.

“That's really what our message to the players was today, the fact that we have nine (OTA) practices and the three minicamp practices,” said McCarthy. “You have 12 opportunities to learn your job and, frankly, if you don’t know what’s expected of you by June 14th (when minicamp ends), your chances to make our football team drop drastically. And that’s our focus.”

Things should get interesting with 90 highly motivated and talented men fighting for 53 jobs over the next three months.

“I’m telling you, if anything builds a team it’s competition,” said Pickett. “Guys bond together and just make you compete at a high level. We’re excited about it.”

The competitive atmosphere is designed to keep players sharp, and there will be no shortage of motivation.

“If you know someone is pushing you from behind trying to take your job, especially in this kind of environment, it’s going to make you work harder,” said receiver Jordy Nelson. “You won’t get complacent. As a whole it will make the team better.”

That’s exactly the attitude McCarthy wants to instill in his team.

“That’s my mindset,” said third-year cornerback Sam Shields. “It’s competition. That’s what we breathe. That’s how we got here is competition.”

Experience and talent are great, but they can only carry a team so far.

“Having that is not going to win any games for us,” said Nelson. “We’ve still got to go out and perform. The opposing teams aren’t going to come in and say, ‘Oh they’re deep and talented and experienced, so let’s give them the win.’ That’s what everyone thought when we played Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl, that we didn’t have experience, (the Steelers) did, so they were trying to hand them the win. You’ve got to go out and play the game and play it well.”

In other words, this is no time for anyone to rest on his laurels. The Super Bowl is the last thing on McCarthy’s mind, and that message wasn’t lost on his team.

“I think it’s a silent confidence around here that we don’t even have to say it, we just feel it,” said linebacker Desmond Bishop. “But we felt it last year. We know feeling it is not the end result. There’s feeling it and getting the job done. So we’re just focusing on getting the job done.”

The Packers know they’re good, but they still have to prove it on the field, one practice at a time.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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