Offseason changes reflect McCarthy's mandate to evolve
It's Mike McCarthy's opinion that when you've been a head coach in the NFL as long as he has, you must find ways to adapt and evolve your philosophies.
That's why the Green Bay Packers' ninth-year coach went back to the drawing board this offseason and returned with several changes, starting with how he trains his team.
All it takes is a quick glance at the Packers' training camp schedule to get a feel for the direction McCarthy is headed. Padded practices no longer are highlighted on the daily agenda, and the schedule leading up to games has been altered.
For example, the revised plan calls for the Packers to take off Aug. 7 and practice the day before their Aug. 9 preseason opener in Tennessee as opposed to McCarthy's previous preference of resting the day before games.
As he laid out during his pre-camp news conference Friday, McCarthy plans to carry that schedule into the regular season in hopes of better preparing his team and fending off the injury problems of three of the past four seasons.
"This is the first time the schedule is changing in nine years," McCarthy said. "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 for, 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."
The change falls in line with some GPS-based studies that have shown teams that cool down and rest before games tend to play at that level, causing teams like Philadelphia to ramp up the speed of its practices to counteract those tendencies.
The Packers made the move this offseason to partner with the Australian-based firm Catapult Sports to incorporate more GPS-based analytics in their training, though McCarthy said they've been using the technology for three years.
Subtle changes were made to the structure of practices during the offseason program with jog-through periods being run at the end of practice rather than the start. McCarthy added that adjustments also will be made to the timing of tackling periods in camp.
"If I was going to grade myself as far as hitting targets in the offseason program, since the new CBA, I think this is the first year that I feel like I got it right," McCarthy said. "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 versus how you do it.
"I felt like this year the practice part was what it needed to be."
Since 2011, McCarthy often has spoken about the challenges the most recent collective bargaining agreement has created for the structure of offseason training. Along with a litany of injuries in recent years, McCarthy acknowledges a trend of his teams starting slow out of training camp.
He complimented the progress the team made during organized team activities and minicamp practices, a notion many veterans in the locker room supported. The question is whether it will help remedy an injured reserve list that swelled to 15 players last season.
"We really haven't started the way we've wanted to the last two years," McCarthy said. "I think we have to be extremely conscious 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."
McCarthy, the fourth-longest-tenured coach in the NFL, soon will be tied with Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr as the second-longest-tenured coaches in Packers history behind Curly Lambeau's 31 years of service.
Many of the challenges are the same from the day he took the job in 2006. Others, such as contact restrictions and practice schedules, have changed. McCarthy admits going from 35 to 21 camp practices makes him nervous, but it's the reality of today's environment.
For the next month, McCarthy must make due with what's available to him to shape an expected contender into a Super Bowl champion. In the process, he'll find out if the countless trial-and-error sessions finally will pay dividends in the form of healthy players and a high quality of play from Day One.
"I feel like I can improve and I think when you stop feeling that way then I think you're lying to yourself," McCarthy said. "We all understand what this business is about. It's about winning. That's what I'm focused on."
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