Packers prepared to hit the ground running in camp
GREEN BAY – Roughly a third of the Green Bay Packers’ 90-man roster consists of rookies, players who professionally never have taken a practice snap in pads or pushed their bodies to the limit while at the same time learning a new system.
Heading into the 12th training camp of his tenure, Packers coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t have the time, and quite possibly the motivation, to hit the brakes at any point over the next six weeks to allow his rookies to catch up.
McCarthy has a roster that returns 17 of 22 starters and 44 players who appeared in at least one game during last season’s run to the NFC Championship game. A total of 26 of the 90 players have four or more years experience and 48 have two or more.
“I’m going to say the first year we were here it took 12 installations to get everything in, and then we kept trying to cut that back,” McCarthy said at his season-opening news conference Wednesday. “We have a principle that we focus on: less volume, more creativity.
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“So you’re always trying to tailor that to your team each and every year. That’s always a big challenge when you try to project what you need to do schematically that will fit your roster.”
This summer, the Packers will use their first eight practices – starting Thursday at 8:15 a.m. – to install their offense, defense and special teams. Each practice mirrors one conducted during organized team activities (OTAs) in May and June.
Players reported to the dorms at St. Norbert College in De Pere on Tuesday evening and to the facility for physical testing and medical exams Wednesday morning. Their first team meeting, in which McCarthy sets the theme for the season, followed.
McCarthy often talks about teaching to the youngest players in the room, but even with a rookie class that could provide a starter or two and some key backups, his expectation is that everyone hit the ground running. No exceptions.
“Frankly, the educational period is over in my view,” McCarthy said. “If we have a player that when we go get together tonight and start talking about install No. 1 and he doesn’t know his assignments already, he’s in trouble. He’s going to have a very difficult time competing.
“So that’s really the beauty of May, June and July. We put a lot into those meetings and the walkthroughs. So I feel very good about where they are, just as far as what they have to do. This is the time to work on how you do it and make sure it’s clear why we’re doing it and getting in sync with the guy next to you.”
Since the collective bargaining agreement eliminated twice-daily practices and unlimited use of pads in practice in 2011, all NFL coaches have had to dramatically change their training camp schedules.
This year, McCarthy has 21 practices scheduled, but it’s likely only 13 will be conducted in full pads. That’s the same as the past two years, but fewer than the 28 (15 in pads) that he conducted as a rookie coach in ’06 and far fewer than the 38 (17 in pads) Mike Sherman held in his final season of ’05.
It would behoove McCarthy to make sure second-round defensive backs Kevin King and Josh Jones are ready to contribute right away given the mess the secondary was last year.
But King is behind because the NFL doesn’t let rookies take part in offseason workouts until their college semester is complete. The University of Washington is on a quarter system and its semesters don’t end until June, so King missed everything but the three-day minicamp.
Jones got a ton of work at linebacker and safety during OTAs and has the best chance of playing right away.
Linebacker Vince Biegel is another rookie who is behind. The Wisconsin product broke his foot early in OTAs and wasn’t on the field for much of anything after undergoing surgery. He’ll be brought back slowly in training camp.
On the other hand, a lot will be expected of defensive lineman Montravius Adams, the third-round pick who was present for the OTAs. He needs to get off to a fast start.
“We’ll be in helmets (and shorts) the first two days,” McCarthy said. “It’s one thing to run around in underwear and helmets and feel good about their athletic ability. They belong. We’re glad they’re here.
“But we’ve got to get these guys ready for these padded practices, get the offense, defense, special teams installed and get ready to play games.”
Coming off a year in which the Packers had to win their final six games to clinch the NFC North and a home playoff game, McCarthy would like to get off to a fast start in the regular season.
The amount of experience he has on offense – from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to receivers Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams to tight end Martellus Bennett to a veteran offensive line – allowed him to tinker with the passing game during the OTAs.
The lack of experience he has at running back – former receiver Ty Montgomery and rookies Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays and Kalif Phillips – means the emphasis in camp will be on the running game. He expects to have more 9-on-7s and physical, run-oriented half-line drills than he’s had before.
“I think the quality of work for us this year, focusing primarily on the passing game was very good and you can see the improvement there,” McCarthy said. “Just getting the cut-ups ready for the install meetings, going into this week, just the quality of tape, particularly individual work and fundamental work was very good. So I was pleased with what we accomplished.
“So with that we kind of do have to shift gears and make sure we’re giving the time, particularly in pads (to the running game), and that will start Saturday and into Family Night (Aug. 5).”
McCarthy readily admits that the success the Packers had last year isn’t guaranteed this year. Same with the big flop in Atlanta in the championship game.
Camp is the start of something new, only with a bunch of familiar faces.
“The goal here has never changed,” McCarthy said. “It’s been the same since Day One. So you have to stack success and you obviously have to get in the playoffs to get to the Super Bowl.”
IF YOU GO
What: Packers' first 2017 training-camp practice.
When: 8:15 a.m. Thursday.
Where: Ray Nitschke Field.
Note: Practice will be moved inside the Don Hutson Center and closed to the public in the event of inclement weather. For the complete training-camp schedule, go to PackersNews.com