GREEN BAY—In his last scheduled meeting with reporters before the start of training camp, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy pronounced his team "clearly ahead of where we were last year," and then made this promise about his team's running game: "We'll be better; I promise you. You can write that down."
It was the proverbial glove across the face. All that remains are the "10 paces" that separate the Packers offense from proving time, which begins on Sept. 8 in no less a proving ground than Candlestick Park.
Back to the 'Stick, baby. What better place to turn over a new leaf?
The Packers will conclude OTAs this week. Tuesday was the media's final look at spring practices.
So, with only a few days left in the official spring practice season, how much has the Packers' running game grown? That question will likely be answered by rookie running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. Will they be far enough along in their development to be factors as rookies? Both were cautious in their answers to that question.
"I'm learning fairly well. If I can get everything down pat, I feel I will be able to play," Lacy said. "You just want me to do what I was drafted to do."
Lacy has turned heads at times in OTAs. He's shown quickness and power, as expected of a 230-pound running back from the Nick Saban school of power football.
"If I'm able to improve the running game, then that's what I'm going to do," Lacy added.
That is, in fact, what he was drafted to do.
Franklin, a fourth-round pick with the stats of a top pick, is a make-you-miss back that made defenders miss and seemingly caught everything thrown to him this spring. The next step for him is to do that when the pads go on.
"My focus is on getting better each and every day. Things will fall into place," he said.
McCarthy promised they would.
On other fronts, McCarthy said Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman have each made strides in their development as backup quarterbacks. They will compete, of course, this summer for the No. 2 job behind Aaron Rodgers.
"B.J. needs to play faster. I really like the development, the improvement in his fundamentals. He needs to play," McCarthy said. "Graham Harrell has improved every year. I think he's made a step this year. He has to have a good preseason. I feel good about those guys battling it out."
Harrell solidified his position as Rodgers' backup last season with a strong performance in the preseason finale against Kansas City. Coleman, as a rookie last season, showed promise on a couple of occasions.
"The preseason can be tough at times, simply because there are so many moving parts. I feel much better now than I've ever felt. The preseason is huge. For guys that aren't first string, that's your chance," Harrell said.
Coleman said his coach "hit the nail on the head. I have to continue to play faster. I learn through doing. I have to get better in the film room. My job is to compete and put it out there for the coaches to see."
McCarthy proclaimed the defense the clear winner of Tuesday's blitz drill. The offense's highlight moment was a deep ball down the middle to third-year tight end D.J. Williams.
"That's the kind of ability he has. You can't have enough tight ends," McCarthy said.
In what ways are the Packers clearly ahead of where they were a year ago? McCarthy, of course, was critical of last year's OTAs for including too much time spent on team drills and not enough on fundamentals.
"Quality of work, No. 1," McCarthy said. "Less volume, more creativity, as far as scheme. I think the new players have integrated very well. In all my years, this is one of the best integrations by the young people.
"It started in the weight room. This team has a different look to it. Maybe it's my sense of urgency. I just feel this team has very consistent leadership."
Cornerback Sam Shields was absent from practice. McCarthy said Shields was at home attending to personal issues.