Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy spoke to reporters on Friday morning, the day before the team's first training camp practice. Here are some highlights:
2014 training camp. Obviously, I know I'm excited. Everybody's been buzzing around here all week, and really, coming of the offseason program, there's an excellent vibe when our players and coaches left the building. It's great to be back. Everybody had a great summer. It's nice to see everyone, and with that, let's get started.
You said earlier the team was unique, what does that mean?
Every football team is unique, especially in this period of time in the season. I mean, this is the time where, we have 89 men on our roster, and really the battles, the competition, the look for the right fit starts. As you look at the dynamics of how we built each and every football team, we don't really go into the season looking for the exact number of any position, so I'm looking for a lot of competition. The depth, how we felt coming out of the offseason, has given us the chance, the coaching staff, to really mold and galvanize a football team. It's a process. This is our most important time of year, because this is where you have to get the information to grow, and we've got to find out about a number of the new players because this will be the first time we get live action in pads and so forth. It's an exciting time.
On linebacker Clay Matthews, recovering from a twice-broken thumb:
I haven't seen Clay personally yet. Our schedule today was players went through physicals this morning. Some guys were around last night just to say 'hello.' We have conditioning tests going on right now and actually our staff meeting is at 4:30. That's where all the information will be compiled and presented.
On the status of players' physicals:
You know I like to find out exactly where they are, but I haven't really checked in with those guys.
Issues you focus on at start of camp:
Well definitely. When you walk away from the offseason program, and I know my thought is, I look at the big picture. I feel that our roster of men, they're ready structurally and schematically, and that's really what you're able to teach in the landscape of this program that we're in in the offseason. With that, you bring it into camp, it's a whole different landscape, whole different environment. I have a couple points of emphasis I'll hit with the team tonight at 5:30, and we'll take it from there.
On the importance of his pre-camp address to the team:
Well, I mean, it's very important. It's very important to have a clear vision, a distinct type of vision of exactly the things we need to push the envelope on. We really like our roster. I think it's a group that we can do some special things. Probably spend too much time on (my speech), frankly. You know when you have this much time to give a talk, my history has been to, I have to cut, I probably cut 60 percent of the stuff I have. You have to tighten it down and get it where you want it. Video is always a little better because (video director) Chris (Kirby) has more time to work on it. So the video will be awesome, and I hope the guy delivering the talk can deliver, so that's where we are.
On not listing padded practices on the training camp schedule:
Really just going through postseason evaluations and notes. The way we do it is we have a kind of an overview after each practice. There are notes that are done from last year that when we start working on training camp in the spring, once that's released, you look at the things that are different. And frankly, talking to the training staff with strength and conditioning, and just how you progress. We're going through a different schedule in the second half of our camp. We're going to be working on a new in-season schedule that we've made some adjustments to the Friday, Saturday in the normal in-season week. It's just really, your goal is to be in pads every day, so that's the thought. But really how the team moves through camp. Looking back on our last two camps, the things that have gone on, the stress points in camp, where injuries occur, we really haven't started the way we've wanted to the last two years. I think we have to be extremely conscientious of that. This is the game of football; the ability to train your team, you need to change, adjust or emphasize each and every year, and that's really just part of that evaluation.
Is there a possibility of practice the day before preseason games to get ready for regular season?
Correct. It's really just giving the team a chance to go down and do that particular practice the first time and get it right. Any time you make change, obviously you have veteran players that are accustomed to things. This is the first time the schedule is changing in nine years. Our in-season schedule when I came here I thought was unique and has been very effective for us and is something we've really been looking at. This is the third year we've talked about it. I decided in spring to take the leap. We really just want to get that right and get our guys ready.
Up until now, you wanted players off their feet 48 hours before games:
It's a philosophical change, correct. GPS (movement tracking) is something we've had in the building I think for three years now. To me, that's all part of the data and the information, the input from (strength and conditioning coach) Mark Lovat and (trainer) Pepper Burruss, and we have a young man coming aboard that we'll announce here in another day or so that will impact our team. We're continuing to try and get better.
On the defense's dynamic with the addition of Julius Peppers and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix:
Well, we've talked about this a lot in the spring and nothing's really changed. It's important for us to take a hard look at, really, by position, by player, do we have enough personnel groups, do we have enough variation. It's just like anything, in my opinion, you can't be multiple-personnel and multiple-scheme. You're always trying to find that balance there. Clay and Peppers and I thought Ha Ha came in and you could tell right away that he belongs. I was impressed with his work in the spring. Just finding as many different ways to utilize your players, because at the end of the day it comes down to fundamentals. The scheme stuff is great, multiple-personnel groups is great, it's still football and never changes. It comes down to fundamentals.
When do you know what you have with a team?
There's a point. That's a great question. There's always a point, and frankly, I'm not going to lie, I'm nervous about it. You got 21 practices. I spent a lot of time up in the staff room the last couple weeks. You look at the numbers from when we started here, 35 to 29, now down to 21. There's always been a point when you can see the footwork, the fits, the pad level, the tempo of the team drills. So there's always been a point where you get going. The preseason games have really, the last three years, been a challenge because we really leaned toward personnel evaluation as opposed to trying to go win the game or be more productive in games. You try to win every game, don't get me wrong. It's just you're trying to roll as many different players in there as possible so the continuity's not quite as good as we probably had in the earlier years. So those are the types of things you look at. There are always points in training camp, and it usually comes after that second week, once they've been stressed a little bit. and you get up there around that Family Night time frame. You usually have a pretty good indication. Like every level of football, until the new players get out there and play under the lights in Tennessee (on Aug. 9). You don't really ever know until then."
On keeping three quarterbacks:
The opportunity for three quarterbacks really comes down to how the third potential quarterback performs and what goes on with the rest of your football team. We've never gone in and said 'we only need to take two quarterbacks.' Because we've been so blessed here the last 20, I don't know how many years, since 1992 to have great quarterback play and start week in and week out. So we all understand what happened last year. You could overreact to that. Last year and my year in San Francisco, from just a pure quarterback coaching standpoint, were the two toughest experiences that I've been a part of — when you play four quarterbacks in one year. So you learn from that. What can you do better? We're better already because we've had Matt (Flynn) and Scott (Tolzien) here from Day 1, so we'll see what happens. I know I said in the spring, I'm not opposed, (general manager) Ted's (Thompson) not opposed to keeping three quarterbacks. It really depends on the competition at the other positions."
On his excitement about the run game's improvement:
Absolutely. Any time you can lean one way or the other and be productive when you have to, because it's just like anything. Running the football is important but running the football when you have to is of most importance, and that's the way I've always viewed it. The direction we've gone on our offense and having (quarterback) Aaron (Rodgers) back there obviously makes your run game better just from him being under center. Eddie Lacy obviously had a great rookie season. But James Starks had his best year, too. I'm excited to see what DuJuan Harris is going to give us. I really like the depth at the whole running back position. We've got some young guys who are going to be competing for a spot. Really looking forward to seeing what they do on special teams. This offensive line in my opinion, in my time here, has a chance to be the best offensive line that we've had. So I'm excited about that group."
On a deadline on injured tight end Jermichael Finley returning to the team:
Um, no. Not that I'm aware of. I actually haven't seen (team doctor) Pat, Dr. McKenzie, in quite some time. I'm not even sure the last time him and Jermichael talked or visited. We're still open to that and watching that. Jermichael Finley is a Green Bay Packer in my opinion and obviously he's going through a medical situation. First and foremost, you just want him to get healthy."
Is it hard to change with only 21 practices on determining the depth chart?
I don't care what business you're in, anytime you're in the area of projection, you're hoping you're right. The spring reps, to me, I've never come out of spring – because we obviously track all the reps and so forth – and declared anything. Performance, when Ted sits down with our staff or I sit down with Ted and his staff at the end of the day it's about performance how does that player fit our football team.
What do you like about the offensive line?
I love our experience level. I think our core with the two guards. (Center) JC (Tretter), this will be his first time and (rookie center Corey) Linsley, I was very impressed with him in the spring. I can't wait to see him in pads. (Center) Garth (Gerhart) has done some good things. The core and our mode of operation in line with their ability and their production, I think has a chance to be really good. We have a very healthy situation at the tackle spots. (Tackle) David (Bakhtiari) is bigger, stronger. He was able to play in every game last year. That's an incredible value to have as a young player. It's great to have (tackle) Bryan (Bulaga) back. (Tackle) Derek Sherrod looks good and we're excited to get him through a full training camp. (Tackle/guard) Don Barclay, I can't say enough about him. We have a bunch of young guys who are going to battle. I don't do comparables but I think you have to feel good about the depth that we have in the O-line compared to prior years."
On players who have a chip on their shoulder:
I don't know if I put a value on it. To me, this game is so much about confidence, and motivation is obviously part of that. Whether you have individual motivation and what gets you going or the ability to motivated as a group if people are motivated, if that individual's motivated by a negative reinforcement, having a chip on your shoulder, to me that's a … I wouldn't look at it that way, because I never really cared about what people thought of me – this is me personally – but negative reinforcement, it's a powerful energy source. But it's a short-term energy source in my opinion.
On the tight ends:
I like our tight ends. I think that's a group that we're really got to get a lot of pad work. I mean, if there was ever, if you wanted to say, 'OK, what group progressed or …' You went, 'OK, wow!' in spring, and that's such a tough group because they're asked to do so much from the backfield, the line of scrimmage, they're displaced, they're moving, they have running back, the same assignments as a running back, they also have their tight-end responsibilities, and carry some wide receiver responsibilities. But the padded work is where it'll define itself. But that's a very healthy group, and they're young.
On how he feels about the team after implementing offseason changes:
Well, if I was going to grade myself as far as hitting targets in the offseason program, since the new (collective bargaining agreement), I think this is the first year that I feel like I got it right. There's been years prior that I didn't really quite feel like we were, as far as the way you practice and what you can get done and the reality of what you should be doing vs. how you do it, I think it's like anything. I give our veteran players a lot of credit … just the communication and making sure we're getting the things that we need and we can evaluate and continue to grow and advance our football team. I think our veteran players did a great job of really getting the practice part right. Because the classroom part has always been excellent in my opinion of our approach, and what we get done during that time frame. But I felt like this year the practice part was what it needed to be.
On balancing a player's contact in camp:
It's a challenge. No doubt about it. To me, I think the challenge, everyone wants to talk about starters, and as you know we don't line up with 11 guys all year. Some teams may, and if they're playing the same 11 guys on offense and defense they're probably pretty damn good. So, you don't really live in that world. For instance, if you're playing on offense and you've got 14, 15, 16 guys that are working together, it's really that group that you're trying to work in with them. To me, that's the real challenge, because then the people that are working together in practice. You try to balance that out the best you can and who knows what's going to happen in the game. Every game you ever compete in – regular season, preseason – the path is always, that's why you play the game, it's different. So you project your reps, you project how you're trying to play guys and so forth, it doesn't always quite work out that way, so it's a challenge to get your regular starters, that's the priority, but man, it's a real challenge trying to get the whole team evaluated.
On whether they'll spend more time to get ready for regular season at preseason's end rather than evaluating:
I don't think you can ever jeopardize your personnel evaluations. Because you have a block of time to make those decisions, and you don't ever get that back. Because if you look at history, players that are released here, they usually have maybe an opportunity somewhere else. So I think you have to max out that effort. That Kansas City game's (on Aug. 28) a critical game for our younger players. I mean, I can't tell you how many times you go into the last game of the year and it changes. You think one thing about another guy, and it's really his first chance to go play 50 plays or 40 plays and he's able to swing the pendulum in his favor. The Kansas City game, the fourth game, is very important for your young players.
On the schedule for second half of training camp:
Obviously, we're one or two days short in training camp work because of us starting on a Saturday night Week 1 preseason game (on Aug. 9) and playing the early game Thursday up there in Seattle (in the regular-season opener on Sept. 4). I'm obviously conscious of that, and that's part of the way our planning's going, too. As far as our approach, evaluating the team hasn't changed. We've got to make sure we get as much information as we can about these 89 players.
On the strength and conditioning program:
Well, I give our strength and conditioning staff a ton of credit. I think Mark Lovat is unique, and he's always on the front edge of what's out there. I take a lot of pride in the fact that we've never run a gasser here. We don't have to do conditioning after practice. I've always been of the belief, and you learn that from the quarterback because it's the total opposite because the quarterback doesn't get the running and so forth in practice that the rest of the players do, so you do need to condition them afterwards. If you practice your team the right way, the conditioning is part of the practice structure. That's always been my philosophy. It's worked. I think our reputation of how fast we play, the ability to get in and out of the huddle and so forth, it's looked the way it's needed to look the last eight years and obviously it will be a goal again this year.
On how much the team will tackle in camp:
We have tackling, excuse me, in the games? Hell, we better tackle in the games. No our tackling drills, we've adjusted, what will look different to you is the timing of different periods when they happen compared to prior years. But tackling drills, the total misconception the way you look at it compared to the way I look at it is the errors in tackling is not really the contact and the ability to finish and go to the ground. That's an important part of it. The most important part – whether it's tackling, blocking, catching the football, all your basic fundamentals – is your footwork. That's the thing that we've always worked on. Stressing, having the offensive player stress the defender and make him break down with the proper Zs in his knees and get yourself in position, because at the end of the day these guys are here for a reason, and the ability to continue to work and get that footwork right, that's where the tackling improves.
On entering his ninth year as head coach:
I feel like I can improve and I think when you stop feeling that way, then I think you're lying to yourself. And the halftime thing (of his career), I have no idea. I mean, who knows? But I love what I'm doing. I love where I work and I even love more the people I work with. But we all understand what this business is about. It's about winning. That's what I'm focused on. Had a great summer. Got a little too much sun, but I feel I'm ready to go.