Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson (87) stretches during Friday's training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
Mike McCarthy went into the offseason wanting answers for the litany of injuries that plagued the Green Bay Packers throughout the 2012 season.
The newly emphasized philosophy developed over the last six months was on full display as the Packers opened training camp Friday.
Now in his eighth year as head coach, McCarthy concedes injuries are unavoidable, but believes the organization has done its due diligence in trying to sidestep the outbreaks that sidelined a horde of players in two of the past three seasons.
The fresh take on wellness included a trio of 2-minute breaks during the 2-hour, 18-minute practice to simulate TV timeouts while the PA system blared popular music for the full effect.
Behind closed doors, there’s also been a revitalized approach to nutrition and training.
“It’s something we looked at from a medical standpoint, the ability to lower the heart rate of the players within the practice,” McCarthy said. “It’s also really trying to train the way you play. TV timeouts are part of the game, and it’s part of that curve that the athletes’ bodies go through on game day. So that’s one of the adjustments that we’ve made to try and be a healthier team.”
McCarthy has offered a number of theories for the team’s slow start in 2012, but injuries didn’t help. At one point in last year’s training camp, mounting ailments forced the team to cut a couple practice sessions by nearly an hour.
It’s for that reason McCarthy has no qualms taking a few minutes out of practice while Robin Thicke and Mumford & Sons keep the tempo. That effort, for at least one day, paid dividends — nobody had to withdraw from practice.
Some of the other offseason alterations include the distribution of reps, a new cafeteria, brainstorming new strategies in the weight room and recovery, and a differing approach to how the team handles off-day training.
Third-year cornerback Davon House has appreciated the changes the Packers have made to their program after playing only 11 of a possible 32 regular-season games over his first two NFL seasons.
Last year, when he appeared to have the inside track on a starting cornerback job, House wound up suffering a shoulder subluxation in the preseason opener against San Diego and missed half the season.
“The way I look at it is Mike’s not really trying to kill us,” House said. “We have a 20-game season to win the Super Bowl and he’s gotten a lot smarter trying to make us be more efficient during preseason games instead of just killing each other in preseason practice. When games come around, there should be no excuse. Everyone should be flying around and making plays.”
Some of the changes to the offseason program have been more cosmetic than preventative. In an effort to practice better, Friday’s practice began with the third-team offense and defense working as the scout look for the opposing first-team units before switching to its usual routine in which offensive and defensive units keep to themselves.
When the team met Thursday, McCarthy conveyed his theme for this season — protection, connection and reflection regarding the franchise’s history.
Inside the locker room, however, the goal to keep players on the field also has been crystallized.
“We’ve talked about it. It’s been a discussion over the years,” said Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who missed four games because of hamstring and lower body injuries last season. “We’ve changed different things throughout the building to continue to try to keep us healthy. This is just another step in it and hopefully it’s a step that will work, and I think it will. I think it’s a great step that they’re doing.”
The Packers still have injuries to manage. Seven players landed on the physically unable to perform list after failing physicals with House and linebacker Jamari Lattimore missing practice with illnesses.
The Packers will move to full-padded practices on Sunday, putting countless hours of research and development to the test. It’s an examination McCarthy and his staff have been preparing for dating to the team’s 45-31 season-ending loss to San Francisco on Jan. 13.
“We’ve looked at every possible angle of our program, particularly in helping these players get healthy,” McCarthy said. “Certain injuries cannot be avoided. It’s unfortunate, and that’s why when an injury does occur, the training staff, the coaching staff, there’s a video evaluation, there’s obviously input from the doctor on the initial examination, obviously the expression of the player, what he felt and the position his body was in.
“You look at everything. We’re on top of it, we’re doing our due diligence, and it’s something we need to improve in. Our statistics speak for themselves the last two out of three years.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.