GREEN BAY – With new coordinator Mike Pettine taking over the Packers' defense in 2018, the buzzwords "energy" and "mindset" are being heard often as the team opens training camp.
Apparently he hammered those concepts home when he spoke in front of the entire team earlier this week.
"I don't want to beef it up too much, but it was a near all-timer," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose perspective as the longest-tenured member of the Packers can't be taken lightly.
"I've been around here for 14 years, and that was a really good talk to the team. As an offensive player, to hear a defensive coordinator get up there and talk about defense the way he did, and goals and mindset, that was pretty impressive. It gives you a lot of hope."
It also appears to have set a tone in multiple ways.
For one, it's a clean slate on that side of the ball, and from 10-year veteran Clay Matthews all the way down to rookie cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, the past is irrelevant.
For another, passion matters. Head Coach Mike McCarthy has commented that he likes the energy his new coaches have brought to the team, and he made a point to have the coordinators speak in front of everybody this year, not just their own units.
The coaches may show their fire in different ways – for example, defensive run-game coordinator and inside linebackers coach Patrick Graham is one of the most steadily vocal presences on the practice field, while Pettine is more likely to pick his spots – but the meaning behind the moments is clear.
"Mike has a real straightforward personality," McCarthy said.
Perhaps most important, Pettine has stressed a mantra that he communicated to the media last month as the offseason program wrapped up – that "how" his players play is more important than "what" they play.
In other words, it's not about the scheme. It's about the approach and attitude.
"What he's saying is, no matter what he calls, the mindset is to beat the other guy, regardless," said veteran cornerback Tramon Williams, who played two years in Cleveland for Pettine when he was the head coach there. "Now when you throw scheme in, it adds a bonus. But it's more, no matter what we call, our mindset is to beat the guy ahead of us, no matter what."
That said, the players are enjoying the deep dive into Pettine's playbook. They've mentioned how looks are disguised, and how they're designed to keep an offense off-balance. They like forcing the opponent to expect the unexpected.
But in Pettine's world, none of that matters if the players aren't playing the right way, and that was the point of his big speech. Focusing on the "how" also allows the younger players to learn the speed of the NFL game faster without getting bogged down in scheme.
"High energy was the stress in the first practice," rookie linebacker and third-round draft pick Oren Burks said. "If you make a mistake, do it full speed, and try to limit those as we go on, getting better every day."
As much as Pettine is in charge of the X's and O's, his emphasis on a style of play keeps the onus on the players as well. He's building a defense that will use the linemen up front as a foundation, and the group headed by Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark and newcomer Mo Wilkerson has a big responsibility.
Pettine has talked about the importance of the inside pass rush being the key element that has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the unit's performance.
But scheme can't be a crutch the players lean on to win. It's up to them.
"That's genuinely where he comes from," Williams said. "When you watch the defense, guys are just getting at dudes.
"You just have to win some of your battles. That's really what it comes down to. It's not going to be rocket science."
The Packers have plenty to sort out on defense, depth-chart wise, during camp and the preseason.
The pecking order at outside linebacker behind starters Matthews and Nick Perry is undetermined. At cornerback, veterans Williams and Davon House are the meeting-room leaders for a young, promising group that includes Kevin King coming back from shoulder surgery, plus top draft picks Alexander and Jackson. Whether Josh Jones or Kentrell Brice starts at safety opposite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix remains TBD as well.
All that will be figured out in time, but it's going to get figured out Pettine's way. He made that clear in front of the team.
"He's done a great job of instilling kind of a new culture around here," Matthews said.
Added Rodgers: "I've got to say, it's exciting. There's a different mindset. They talk about that word, which is why I'm using it. There's a different mindset on that side of the ball."