Head Coach Mike McCarthy believes the Packers have the right personnel and scheme to effectively run the football this season.
He also believes they don't have a choice but to make it work in order to be successful over the long haul.
McCarthy intends to be fully committed to the ground game in his first year as head coach in Green Bay, and he knows that's going to mean sticking with it during some of the tougher times.
"They'll boo you when you keep running, but it's a commitment, a long-term commitment," McCarthy said in his pre-training camp news conference on Thursday. "People sometimes have a tendency to get away from the run game early in the game. You need to commit to it. That's not to say you start every game with 10 runs, but you have to make a commitment over the course of the season if you think it's going to work."
Injuries at tailback and youth in the offensive line contributed to the Packers' struggles on the ground last year, and they'll be dealing with some of those same issues in 2006. But McCarthy's perspective is whether you're looking at an individual game, or the 16-game season, the ground game is always a work in progress.
"The hardest part about running the football is dealing with the zero- and 1-yard gains," he said. "I've said all the time that if you give me 1 or 2 yards in the first quarter, 2 or 3 yards in the second quarter, and 3 or 4 yards in the third quarter,...in the fourth quarter, that ball is coming out the back end. That's the mindset we'll have running the football."
The growth process will be particularly interesting to watch with this offense because of the new zone-blocking scheme offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski brought with him from Atlanta.
In general, players are responsible for an area in a zone-blocking scheme, rather than a specific defender. It requires quicker and more mobile offensive linemen, which in part explains why draft picks Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz will open training camp as the starting guards despite being rookies.
"The lead zone-blocking scheme is our primary run," McCarthy said. "I've always been a power person in the past, I've always believed in a power play. But through conversations with Jeff and our offensive staff, we felt this better suited our football team.
"It's an aggressive downhill style, cutting them on the backside and things like that. It definitely fits the identity of our football team."
Speaking of the ground game, McCarthy wouldn't say for sure when injured running backs Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport would begin practice, but he would have a better idea after all the players take physicals and running tests on Friday morning.
"We're going to be cautious, just like I talked about in the spring," McCarthy said. "Seeing them in June, looked like they were ready to go then. But we're going to play the high side of caution with both Najeh and Ahman."
The reason the team is being cautious now is so the players don't have to be cautious when they hit the field.
"You can't worry about injuries, because anytime you go into the practice environment worried about that, ...that's when injuries happen," McCarthy said. "As long as you're flying around you have a lot less opportunity to get injured than when you're playing cautious, in my opinion."
McCarthy said he won't wait until after all four preseason games have been played before the team starts preparing for the regular-season opener against Chicago on Sept. 10.
The team will take a few practices midway through camp to focus on the Bears, and then resume that preparation during the week leading up to the opener.
"We are not adding anything new," McCarthy said as far as the playbook is concerned. "What we put in the spring, that's what we're playing with in all three phases. We're not inventing plays as we go on, we will not invent plays throughout the season. Our guns are loaded, and we're getting ready to go play."
Unlike last year, when the Buffalo Bills visited to practice and scrimmage against the Packers, this year's training camp will not feature any other teams. McCarthy said there were preliminary talks with the Kansas City Chiefs this year, and they may consider resuming that discussion in the future.
"It didn't get far enough for it to be a serious option (this year), but we did have the chance to speak with those guys and it's something we may do in the future," he said.
Because of Brett Favre's age and experience, his workload in training camp may not be quite as heavy as that of most starting quarterbacks in the NFL, which should give backup Aaron Rodgers significant time with the No. 1 offense in practice and potentially in preseason games.
"We're going to do the same approach with Brett as we did in the spring, put him on a pitch count and pay close attention to his arm," McCarthy said. "There's no reason for him to get his arm worn out in training camp. That will give Aaron more opportunities and he'll play a lot in preseason."
McCarthy does not, however, anticipate having Favre sit out any preseason games.
Under the lights
The night practices, beginning Friday, will be a first for the Green Bay Packers, but they won't be a first for McCarthy. As offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, he was involved in night practices, and he said the atmosphere has a positive impact on the players.
"The best practices I've ever been involved with in training camp were night practices," McCarthy said. "In New Orleans, in Thibodaux, Louisiana, we'd have 8 to 10,000 people in the stands and our players were sprinting through the walk-throughs. The players like that, when the lights come on and you put people in the stands. Especially when you get into your third week of training camp, it's a big boost."
Using a night practice on a day with two workouts protects players from the summer heat as well. Having just one practice on a day following two also allows for appropriate film study after each practice, giving the opportunity for players to correct their mistakes before the next session, which should be a benefit to a team like the Packers with so much youth on the roster.
"The ability to break it down and keep reviewing, it's tailored to the young guy," McCarthy said. "I was always taught that you always taught to the lowest guy in the class, and the lowest guy is obviously the rookie. He's the youngest and least experienced, so with that in mind, this structure plays right into that."