Though the Green Bay Packers are 111 days from their opening game against the Chicago Bears, don't try telling that to anyone at 1265 Lombardi Avenue.
In fact, anyone that watched the team wrap up its second and final mini-camp of the offseason Sunday morning can clearly see that the Packers are doing everything in their power to prepare for a successful 2006 season.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy wasted no time in getting to know his team, and perhaps more importantly, his squad got to experience first-hand what his expectations are going to be for the upcoming campaign.
The first-year head coach said that despite all the information that has been thrown at his team in the last two weeks, he is pleased with their progress and excited about the upcoming OTAs (organized team activities) and training camp, which will start in July (the dates will be announced at a later date).
After five practices that started Friday morning, one thing is clear: the Packers are going to be a hard-working and dedicated bunch, a team that plays each snap as if it could be their last, and one that seizes every opportunity to make an impact, both in games and on the practice field.
And according to McCarthy, his team showed that kind of commitment in the latest mini-camp by improving in each session.
"I think it's evident just the way we practiced," McCarthy said. "If you look at the way we practiced, I thought we started a little slow Friday, but the Friday segments were good practices. We definitely improved there.
"Saturday morning was the first install of the new situation, and it was a little rough. Saturday afternoon was an excellent practice. We had the first red zone today. The offense did some good things and the defense did some good things. We definitely improved as a football team over these last five practices."
Mark Tauscher, the picture of consistency in his first six seasons with the team, has been a mainstay due to his hard work and approach that McCarthy talks about.
However, he admits that he and his teammates aren't taken anything for granted, whether they're established veterans or rookies trying to make the team. Instead, everyone is trying to make a positive impression on the first-year coaching staff.
"It's a different staff and a different year," Tauscher explained. "When you have a new coaching staff, the coaches don't really know you as a player. I think everybody tried to put their best foot forward to show the coaches what they stood for."
So far so good, according to McCarthy.
"A commitment to the offseason is obviously paying off for us," he said. "And like I told them, we really completed the third quarter of our offseason program and the OTA's will be the fourth quarter. I'm very pleased so far."
The OTAs start May 31st and conclude on June 21st, and judging by McCarthy's tone, he's looking forward to taking another step in getting his team ready for training camp as well as the regular season.
"Our OTAs will directly match our training camp installation," McCarthy said. "Like I told the guys, June 22nd, that's who we are. You need to know it by then because when we come back for training camp, we're obviously going to be in live action, padded practices and we need to come together as a football team. Our structure is put in place where everything will be in by June 22nd."
Several players in the locker room suggested that they are indeed getting more comfortable with the new schemes and terminology that come with a new coaching staff.
Linebacker Nick Barnett said he could already see the difference from the last mini-camp.
"I think guys caught on a little faster because they were exposed with what we were doing, (from the first mini-camp)," Barnett said. "So we were able to move on technique-wise and play a little bit more comfortable instead of wondering what we were going to do. I think we're making some improvement and we'll continue to do that in the OTAs".
Rookie wide receiver Greg Jennings arguably has an even bigger learning curve because the NFL is a whole new game to him. However, he stands by Barnett on the importance of learning the playbook and being able to reach a high level of consistency.
"It's all about being comfortable," Jennings said. "Once you're comfortable you're not thinking about what you have, you're just out there reacting. And once you get comfortable and just react to the defense, you're definitely going to be more elusive out there. You're going to be more relaxed and just able to make plays."
Though it's early, McCarthy can see that his team is doing everything it can to get better. He said pride is what pushes his players to improve from a season ago, particularly the ones who have experienced success before.
But that pride factor doesn't just pertain to the players, however.
"We have a coaching staff here that has a lot of pride too because everybody has to adhere to the championship ways of the Green Bay Packers," McCarthy explained. "That's our responsibility; we carry it everyday when we put on the Green and Gold as coaches and players. There's a tremendous amount of pride and work ethic that I'm personally proud to be part of and I think everybody in our program is proud to be part of."