INDIANAPOLIS - Coach Mike McCarthy embraces the Green Bay Packers' appearance in the Hall of Fame Game this summer, although he would prefer that it replace one of the team's scheduled four preseason games.
The Packers will open the 2016 NFL preseason with the Aug. 7 game against the Indianapolis Colts in Canton, Ohio, site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The game will be played one day after former Packers quarterback Brett Favre’s induction into the hall.
It will be a special time for the franchise, playing on a weekend when its signature player is enshrined. McCarthy said he’s excited about the festivities. He sees benefits with young players getting extra snaps.
He’d just prefer not to play five preseason games.
“I don’t disagree with that approach (of wanting fewer preseason games),” McCarthy said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine. “Format it like you do the (regular-season) kickoff classic. You play the kickoff game on Thursday, and everybody else starts on Sunday. That would probably be a little more practical, especially with all the emphasis on player safety. Hell, they’ve cut back everything else.”
The dangers of preseason games are a particularly sensitive issue with the Packers. They lost defensive tackle B.J. Raji to a season-ending biceps injury during the 2014 preseason, then receiver Jordy Nelson during the last preseason. The latter injury helped derail what had been an explosive passing offense.
With the league’s emphasis on player safety, McCarthy said he wouldn’t be surprised if there were changes made to preseason scheduling in the future. He mentioned one idea Thursday, a change that would cut the NFL’s preseason workload to three games. The plan would include a bye week between the third preseason game and the start of the regular season.
“That’s just my opinion,” McCarthy said. “Nobody’s told me that. I’d be for it. I think it makes a lot of sense. Then you could be a little more aggressive in that third game. Just take the fourth one out. The fourth one is the stressor.”
There are other reasons beyond player safety McCarthy wouldn’t mind a longer gap of time between the preseason and regular season. The final preseason week is a hectic time for NFL teams, with final roster cuts dropping the number of players to 53.
With the fourth preseason game coming just days before final cuts, important roster decisions have to be made quickly.
“Think about it,” McCarthy said. “You’re coaching the team. You’ve got 90 guys here. Then it goes to 75, then all of a sudden you go to 53. You go down to practice, it’s almost like, ‘Wow, where did everybody go?’ It changes the way you train. If you could have that for two weeks or 10 days, I think it’s better practice, better preparation, better performance.”
McCarthy said he has seen early-season performance "drop off" in recent years, especially in the first three weeks. Although the Packers started 6-0 last season, they had lost their previous three season openers. McCarthy believes more of a gap between the preseason and regular season would help prepare players for the games that count.
Instead, the Packers will get an extra preseason game this year. It only makes for a more hectic schedule in August and even July. The start of training camp likely will be pushed up to July 24, two weeks before the Packers play the Colts.
McCarthy never has coached in the Hall of Fame Game, even as an assistant. So he’s venturing into new territory this offseason. He and football administration coordinator Matt Klein are looking at "four or five different schedules" to use approaching the game.
Ultimately, the Packers figure to rely heavily on young players in their preseason opener. It’s how McCarthy plans to make the most of the extra snaps while appreciating the special moment in his franchise’s history.
"I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time looking at the schedule," McCarthy said, "getting feedback from people who have been in the game, transportation, all the way through. It’ll definitely change as a training camp. It’ll change the stress points up in training camp. The more and more you get into it as far as scheduling and how you train your team, the stress points of each training camp are important to be in line with anticipating them, but you also have to be able to react to them. You have to factor that all in.
"I really look at it two ways. It’s a great honor for Brett Favre and it’ll be a great day for the Green Bay Packers, but with that, our younger football players will benefit from the extra time."