Aaron Nagler hosts a Facebook Live session with readers to discuss Mike McCarthy's season-ending news conference and take questions on the Packers. (Jan. 4, 2018) Aaron Nagler | USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY - As the dust settled in the days after defensive coordinator Dom Capers was fired, a pair of former first-round picks were most vocal inside the Green Bay Packers' locker room explaining what went wrong on defense.
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Packers' top pick in 2014, encouraged team decision makers to infuse the locker room with more veteran depth. Cornerback Damarious Randall, the Packers' top pick in 2015, urged coaches to hold players more accountable for mistakes.
Randall's analysis apparently irked coach Mike McCarthy.
“You’re talking about words of frustration,” McCarthy said. “I’ll tell you what I told Damarious. He needs to focus on himself. He’s got to clean his own house. That’s what I look for him to do in the offseason. He did a lot of really good things.
"We all understand what happened in the Chicago game (when Randall pouted after being beaten for a touchdown and was sent to the locker room), but I thought from the Chicago game on he played at a very high level. He probably played his best football of his career, but then he didn’t play the last two games.”
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After being banished against the Bears on Sept. 28, Randall went on to become the biggest playmaker in the Packers' secondary. Randall’s four interceptions were one more than Clinton-Dix’s total.
Overall, Clinton-Dix did not build on his Pro Bowl season from a year ago. He had two fewer interceptions, and late in the season, Capers mentioned fewer splash plays. Clinton-Dix also had pointed remarks regarding the Packers' defensive problems, but they didn’t receive the same rebuke from McCarthy.
“Ha Ha is one of our core guys,” McCarthy said. “He’s been to the Pro Bowl for a reason. I look for him to go home and digest it, and hit it running like he always does. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a Green Bay Packer. I love his passion. I love his commitment to the team. I think words of frustration ... hey, at least he’s frustrated. Conflict is good. I think it’s a good thing he’s expressing himself because it’s all about winning. He understands what the deal is here. He wants to get it done.”
In reality, Clinton-Dix and Randall were critical of different aspects. Clinton-Dix’s comments pointed more to player acquisition, which rests on the team’s personnel staff. Randall referenced the coaching staff.
Perhaps that’s why Randall’s critique drew a stronger reaction.
“He needs to go home,” McCarthy said, “and self-evaluate and clean his own house. We all need to clean our own house.”
Aaron Nagler speaks with Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette to get his takeaways from Mike McCarthy's season-ending press conference. (Jan. 4, 2018) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Vote of confidence: As coaches around him were being shown the door at a torrid pace, special teams coordinator Ron Zook could exhale deeply after McCarthy’s news conference Thursday.
Zook, who is in his third season as coordinator, received bountiful praise from McCarthy after a year in which the Packers made significant strides in the punt-return game, set a franchise record in net punting average and navigated a carousel of long snappers since the end of 2016.
“I thought Ron did an excellent job this year,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, of the coordinator positions, Ron has the hardest job.”
His job is difficult because of the crippling trickle-down effect of injury woes that force Zook to reshuffle his lineups on a weekly basis. Starters generally play fewer reps on special teams than backups given their responsibilities on offense or defense, and that means Zook lost key contributors every time a backup was promoted to the starting lineup.
The inherent youth on special teams provides and additional challenge.
“He’s not only young (in terms of personnel),” McCarthy said, “but in some sense you’re starting over again because of the youth of our team, and how we try to treat starters and just be smart with the play time and some of the reactions that we’ve had to this injury pattern that’s been upon our team the last two years. So I thought Ron Zook did a hell of a job this year.”
After struggling to generate anything in the punt-return game in 2016, the Packers skyrocketed up the ranks to finish second at 10.7 yards per return. Wide receiver Trevor Davis proved to be a dynamic, explosive option whose home-run potential offset some of his decision-making errors.
Rookie punter Justin Vogel was another success story. An undrafted free agent from Miami, Vogel finished seventh in net punting average among players with at least 60 punts this season. His net average of 41.6 yards broke a franchise record held by Tim Masthay, and the Packers had only two touchbacks all season.
Aaron Nagler took to Facebook Live to talk the latest on Packers and answer your questions. Aaron Nagler | USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Back to school: The exodus of coaches continued Thursday when McCarthy announced the departure of defensive quality control coach Tim McGarigle, who chose to pursue another opportunity.
McGarigle, 34, accepted a job with coach Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern to return to his alma mater. Fitzgerald was an assistant at Northwestern when McGarigle, a linebacker, wrapped up his playing career in 2006.
McGarigle spent one season in Green Bay.
Still calling plays: Not everything in Green Bay is scheduled to change this offseason.
McCarthy said he will continue calling plays for the Packers' offense in 2018. McCarthy will need a new offensive coordinator after removing Edgar Bennett from the position, as well as a new quarterbacks coach after Alex Van Pelt opted to become a free agent. But the Packers will retain their play caller.
McCarthy has tried delegating play-calling duties, allowing former assistant Tom Clements to step into that role in 2015. When the Packers' offense struggled through the first 12 games that season, McCarthy again assumed the play-calling role. It appears he has no interest in relinquishing it.
“Moving forward,” McCarthy said, “yes, I will call the plays.”
Another futures deal: The Packers announced they signed linebacker Ahmad Thomas to a futures free-agent contract. Thomas, who played college football at Oklahoma, is the seventh such signing they’ve announced this week.
Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.