Packers' practice schedule change 'hit a home run'

Ryan Wood
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It was an untouchable topic during the season. Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy had no interest in discussing his team's changed practice schedule, or how it limited injuries.

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy looks on in the second quarter during Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Better not to jinx good fortune.

With 2014 behind him, McCarthy opened up about the changes during his season-ending news conference Wednesday afternoon. When training camp opened in August, Green Bay became just the second NFL team to break from the traditional weekly practice schedule, following in the footsteps of Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly.

One season is a small sample size, but the results hardly could have been better.

"We definitely felt like we hit a home run with the changes we made," McCarthy said.

The Packers, riddled with injuries in each of the past few seasons, had every player on their 53-man roster practice the week of the NFC championship game. It highlighted what was a much healthier season for the overall roster. Of course, there were injuries throughout the season. They're unavoidable with football's snap-to-snap violence.

But Green Bay's overall health was a major reason it was in Super Bowl contention. McCarthy said the key was how players bought into the schedule adjustment.

"I think it's important when you make a big change, it has to get off the ground," McCarthy said. "I've been around long enough to see a lot of great ideas that don't get off on the right foot. They fail, and it's because of the introduction, how it was explained, the impression of why you're changing it, and so forth. Because there's always going to be doubt any time you change.

"We had been successful with the old schedule. I just wanted to make sure everything was lined up and ready to go."

McCarthy said the biggest effect was how the new schedule limited "fatigue" injuries, exactly what it was designed to do.

The most significant change was how Green Bay practiced late in the week. Traditionally, the day before a game serves as a simple walk-through. Players avoiding physical exertion, saving their energy for kickoff.

This season, the Packers had a brief, brisk practice on the day before games. Players spent the previous day – Friday when game day falls on a Sunday – walking through the game plan inside the team's new conditioning, rehab and instruction facility connected to Lambeau Field.

McCarthy said the "final hurdle" in making the switch was the CRIC facility, which opened after Thanksgiving in 2013.

He said he "wasn't totally sold" the new schedule would have instant success limiting injuries.

"With that," he said," you have to give our training staff a ton of credit."

One reservation, McCarthy said, was how young players would develop with less training reps on the field. It wasn't an issue for Green Bay's rookie class this season.

Four rookies made an immediate impact on the field: safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, receiver Davante Adams, tight end Richard Rodgers and center Corey Linsley.

"Really, from my position being a draft-and-develop program, when you put this on paper it doesn't really add up," McCarthy said. "You're on the field a lot less, your high-speed training is less. So where do these young players learn to develop? They don't show up here from college ready to play.

"That was always the part I couldn't go forward with it. So with the new facility and the CRIC and just a learning environment and the way we're able to utilize the CRIC for both teaching and also implementing with the strength and conditioning, it just made it all flow."

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