Football / Sports

Mike McCarthy is optimistic but nervous about training camp

GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- On the verge of his ninth training camp as the Green Bay Packers' head coach, Mike McCarthy was part confident and part, well, "nervous."

As far as "hitting targets" in an off-season program under the new collective bargaining agreement, McCarthy said this is the first season he got it right. The veterans set a tone at practice during the spring, he added, and the classroom was active.

But there's always a point in camp when everything should click.

"And frankly," McCarthy said, "I'm not going to lie, I'm nervous about it. You got 21 practices. ... You look at the numbers from when we started here 35 to 29 now down to 21."

That's the NFL in 2014. Each practice at Ray Nitschke Field carries a bit more urgency. And practice for the Packers begins at 8:20 a.m. Saturday. At his annual pre-camp news conference, McCarthy expressed optimism in his team, why this might be his best offensive line in Green Bay and explains tweaks to practice.

--Pads or no pads? Unlike previous summers, McCarthy did not indicate when exactly the Packers would be in pads on the training-camp schedule.

The second half of camp will be different, he promised. Before road preseason games at St. Louis and Tennessee, the Packers have no practice scheduled on Thursday and no public practice on Friday. Somehow, he'd like to simulate a true game week.

"Your goal is to be in pads every day, so that's the thought," McCarthy said. "But really how the team moves through camp. Looking back on our last two camps, the things that have gone on, the stress points in camp, where injuries occur, we really haven't started the way we've wanted to the last two years.

"I think we have to be extremely conscience of that."

--The Packers won't be tackling in camp. A handful of other NFL teams do incorporate periods of tackling, but here it appears McCarthy will change the timing of the team's form tackling drills more than any wholesale changes.

"Tackling drills, the total misconception the way you look at it compared to the way I look at it," McCarthy said, "is the errors in tackling is not really the contact and the ability to finish and go to the ground. That's an important part of it. The most important part -- whether it's tackling, blocking, catching the football, all your basic fundamentals -- is your footwork. That's the thing that we've always worked on.

"Stressing, having the offensive player stress the defender and make him break down with the proper Z's in his knees and get yourself in position because at the end of the day these guys are here for a reason. The ability to continue to work and get that footwork right, that's where the tackling improves."

--A healthy Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy may be the No. 1 reason for optimism in Green Bay. Running the ball was a chore without Lacy in 2012, even against soft Cover-2 defenses. And in 2013, teams were able to crowd the line of scrimmage when Rodgers suffered his fractured collarbone.

Rodgers and Lacy have played less than half a season together. Now, both players are healthy.

Being able to "lean one way or the other" is important, McCarthy said.

"Running the football is important, but running the football when you have to is of most importance and that's the way I've always viewed it," McCarthy said. "The direction we've gone on our offense and having Aaron back there obviously makes your run game better just from him being under center."

--McCarthy believes this year's offensive line "has a chance to be the best offensive line that we've had."

The core, he said, are the two guards. Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang have started a combined 143 games. Bryan Bulaga returns at right tackle and David Bakhtiari enters Year 2 at left tackle. At center, he noted JC Tretter, Corey Linsley and Garth Gerhart will compete.

"David is bigger, stronger," McCarthy said. "He was able to play in every game last year. That's an incredible value to have as a young player. It's great to have Bryan back.

"Derek Sherrod looks good and we're excited to get him through a full training camp. Don Barclay, I can't say enough about him. We have a bunch of young guys who are going to battle. I don't do comparables but I think you have to feel good about the depth that we have in the O-line compared to prior years."

--On the verge of camp, the Packers move on at tight end. While McCarthy continues to leave the door open for Jermichael Finley (neck), practice begins with seven others on the roster.

Arguably no position group was more impressive in the pad-less spring practices than the tight ends. So it's no surprise, McCarthy is eager to see players work in pads.

"I like our tight ends," McCarthy said. "I think that's a group that we're really got to get a lot of pad work. If you wanted to say, 'OK, what group progressed or...' You went, 'OK, wow!' in spring, and that's such a tough group because they're asked to do so much -- from the backfield, the line of scrimmage, they're displaced, they're moving, they have running back, the same assignments as a running back, they also have their tight-end responsibilities and carry some wide receiver responsibilities. But the padded work is where it'll define itself."

--Week 1 at Seattle looms. Green Bay somehow must prep for its Sept. 4 Thursday showdown early, in chunks of camp itself. Still, McCarthy also made it clear that you never "jeopardize personnel evaluation."

With fewer practices than years past, he'll need to find the right balance.

"Because if you look at history, players that are released here, they usually have an opportunity somewhere else," McCarthy said. "I think you have to max out that effort. That Kansas City game is a critical game for our younger players. I can't tell you how many times you go into the last game of the year and it changes."

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