Mini-Camp Ends With Optimism

The offseason program officially ended on Thursday with the final mini-camp practice, the last team function prior to the start of training camp in late July, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy couldn’t be happier with how his team is growing and developing in preparation for the 2008 season. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript

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The offseason program officially ended on Thursday with the final mini-camp practice, the last team function prior to the start of training camp in late July, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy couldn't be happier with how his team is growing and developing in preparation for the 2008 season.

"Clearly I think it's the best offseason that we've had to date (with) the individual time that the players spent with the coaches, the commitment to the offseason program and the strength and conditioning all the way through the OTAs, and I really like the way our offseason came to a conclusion here with the mini-camp at the end," McCarthy said during his press conference following the final workout.

"It's an exciting time for us. We felt like we had the opportunity to improve through this learning process because that's really what this time of year is. I liked the way the rookies jumped in there and picked things up. It puts us in a very good position to start off camp healthy and ready to go."

In all, the offseason program lasted 14 weeks for most young players, who began their strength and conditioning work on March 17. Veterans joined in two weeks later, and all the strength/conditioning and individual position work (IPWs) were followed by four weeks of organized team activities (OTAs) and then this week's four-practice mini-camp.

McCarthy re-iterated on Thursday that he feels the team's roster is the deepest and strongest it's been at this point in the year since he arrived in 2006. That's not only due to the acquisition of several key players and draft picks the last couple of years, but also to the vast improvement the young players have shown going through the team's full offseason program for the first or perhaps second or third time.

With the retirements of Brett Favre and Rob Davis from the league's youngest team in 2007, the Packers are almost certain to be the youngest team in the league again in 2008. But the players see that as nothing but a statistic, and not a limitation on what they can accomplish.

"We're a talented team, and it really just comes down to performance," veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher said. "We have a lot of third-year guys, second-year guys. We have a pretty good thing going here. I don't think it's a situation where we need to sit there and explain everything. Guys understand the magnitude of getting ready for a season. Once you get past that first year, you understand what's expected of you and what's needed to be done."

The expectations in the short-term are for the players to get their minds and bodies rested, but prepared, to practice hard during training camp. There will be some positional and roster battles waged, but the focus of training camp will be for all players to elevate their games for the regular season.

"I'm actually looking forward to training camp," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "I'm tired of this mini-camp, going out there practicing with no pads on, everybody's trying to be tough with no pads on. I'd rather just get the pads on so we can play."

That said, Barnett does see what the team gained from the offseason program.

"I think we've made a lot of improvements this offseason," he said. "The biggest thing is we've got the same guys, but a year of experience for us, the attendance level and the participation while the guys were here, I think we've really grown. People say what is a year of experience? Well, it's a year of the same scheme under our belts, able to improve on that scheme and then add more tweaks to it."

{sportsad300}The feeling heading into the final pre-training camp break is similar to last year, when the team was coming off a four-game winning streak to end 2006 and poised to improve.

"This team has the ability to be something special and we felt that way coming off our offseason last year," McCarthy said. "We felt good about the direction we were going. I think our challenges are going to be a lot different this year. The obstacles that we're going to have to get over are going to be a lot different. We just have to go out week in and week out and find ways to win games. That will be our focus."

Those obstacles include the development of a new quarterback, with Aaron Rodgers taking over for Favre, a somewhat disjointed training camp schedule with four preseason games in a span of 18 days, a regular-season slate with at least six nationally televised contests (either in late afternoon or prime time) after having 13 noon kickoffs in 2007, and the prospect of being the defending NFC North Division champion and conference runner-up with the requisite target on the team's collective back.

But McCarthy would be the first to concede those are all good problems to have, and while the team's goals are high - the players broke the final post-practice huddle with the words "Super Bowl" - there's still plenty of work ahead to achieve them.

"This is a team that needs to continue to grow," McCarthy said. "I think we took steps in that direction, based on how hard they worked and what they've put into it.

"We've just completed phase one. Training camp is phase two, and then once the in season starts it will be phase three. I'm very pleased with what we have accomplished in phase one."

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