As Packers head coach Mike Sherman held his first press conference of 2005's training camp, he stressed his eagerness about the start of the season, the return of Brett Favre, additions to the offensive line, among other topics.
"I'm very excited about the upcoming season," he said. "I'm really looking forward to that first Friday practice to get on our new field and get going. It seems like it's been a long offseason, and I'm anxious to see the development of some of our young players."
Much of that excitement is due to an offseason program he cited as the best he has enjoyed as head coach.
"We've had more players - rookies and veterans - involved in our opportunity sessions, and they have definitely benefited from that," he said. "Our minicamps have gone well."
Much of that offseason did not include Favre, who worked out at home instead of attending the organized team activities. The 15-year veteran spent the time tending to his family and wife Deanna, who is recovering from breast cancer, and working out with a personal trainer.
"He has a little bit of that Catholic guilt," Sherman joked. "He probably worked harder back there than he would've here. I think he's going to come into camp probably in better shape than he's been in in the past."
The reason for Favre's extra conditioning work was two-fold. He hopes to become more elusive in and out of the pocket, allowing him to create more plays. Sherman also wants Favre, who has started a quarterback-record 205 straight games to become even more durable.
"He is going to have a better armor to protect him," Sherman said. "Hopefully, it will extend his career."
Sherman also said the time off will not affect Favre.
"He has thrown a ball since his last game," Sherman said. "He'll come in here ready to roll. I don't think he'll need a lot of reps."
Aaron Rodgers, the first-round draft pick many have projected as Favre's successor at quarterback, has not yet signed a contract. He can not practice until he reaches an agreement.
However, the first first-rounder to sign, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, did not do so until Monday, delaying the process for the other selections.
"As they sign, things start falling," Sherman said. "I know (Rodgers) is anxious, his agent is anxious and there has been good conversation. So I'm sure that will happen."
Much media hype has centered around who will protect Rodgers and Favre as the Packers lost two excellent guards during the offseason. The Panthers signed Mike Wahle to a five-year, $27-million contract with $10 million in bonuses while the Cowboys signed Marco Rivera to a five-year, $20 million deal with a $9 million signing bonus.
However, Sherman downplayed the losses, saying the offensive line's starters were only healthy once in the five years he's been head coach of the Packers. With the free agent additions of Matt O'Dwyer and Adrian Klemm, he said this group has more depth than they have had under his watch.
"I feel confident we'll put together a good group," he said. "There are more backups that I think are viable players than we've had in the past. I think we've scrambled (in the past) finding the seventh and eighth offensive linemen where as now I feel good."
Sherman will remain very involved in the offense. He will attend offensive meetings and could call the plays for the offense as he did for the majority of last year.
"I enjoy that aspect of it," he said. "But I'm not going to etch anything in stone. ... I am very pleased with Tom Rossley and the way he's called plays. If I do it, it has no indication on him whatsoever."
Under Sherman's guidance, the unit ranked third in the league in 2004. He said he wants to continue where he left off while eliminating turnovers.
"We want to take it to another level," he said. "If we don't turn the ball over, we usually win."
On the other side of the ball, the Packers hired high-energy coach Jim Bates as defensive coordinator to improve a unit that finished 25th in the league last year. Bates' attacking defense puts a lot of responsibility in the hands of the linebackers, and Sherman said he expects a big year from middle linebacker Nick Barnett in that scheme.
"Nick has a chance to be one of the all-time leading tacklers in our history," he said.
Sherman also hopes for major production from Robert Ferguson, who had his season end on a head and neck injury suffered on a clothesline from Jacksonville Jaguars safety Donovin Darius in December.
The head coach was cautiously optimistic about his health but said he could become a more precise route runner. Ferguson played only one collegiate season at Texas A&M before the Packers drafted him in 2001.
"He has personally smoothed the edges off to the point where we now really have to fine tune him as a receiver," he said. "I've never been around a more willing learner."
Ferguson could take on a major role with wide receiver Javon Walker having not participated in any offseason activities. Sherman, however, said such offseason issues will not affect a team with a strong leadership presence from players including Favre, William Henderson, Ahman Green, Al Harris and Na'il Diggs.
"Distractions really have not been a problem for us. They worry about their own job. It doesn't carry over into the locker room," he said. "I think it's a tribute to the strength of the corps leaders."
Another thing that will not change are the high expectations in Titletown for a franchise that has won three consecutive division titles.
"It hasn't changed from one year to the next," he said. "Every year when you're the head coach of the Green Bay Packers you have extremely high expectations, and this season's no exception."
*For more information about the Green Bay Packers' Training Camp, please visit www.PackersTrainingCamp.com.