Notebook: McCarthy Focusing On Improvement

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While Green Bay's players are in the midst of the second week of the offseason program with strength and conditioning workouts at Lambeau Field, Head Coach Mike McCarthy is looking ahead to some areas he would like to see the team take a step forward in next season.

The Packers made noticeable strides on defense in 2009, finishing No. 1 in the NFL against the run for the first time in franchise history and No. 2 in overall defense after finishing 26th and 20th in those respective categories in '08. Having recently finished the scheme evaluation with defensive coordinator Dom Capers, McCarthy has identified aspects that need to make a jump in 2010.

"We haven't even really presented it to the team yet, but the two biggest things for us defensively are going to be tackling and handling adversity," said McCarthy, during a break at the league's annual meetings in Orlando, Fla. "Our adversity situations this year were not close to what they needed to be, and did not match up to our production throughout our defense.

"On top of that, the productivity we had throughout the defense was a vast improvement over what we have done in the past, but those are two areas that we are going to really emphasize. When you guys go to practice in the OTAs and in the summer, you'll see some drills and things and situations and emphases that will be applied to highlight that for the defense."

Even though tackling will be a focus, McCarthy said there are other ways to improve in that area besides live tackling during training camp.

"I don't think you need to go live," McCarthy said. "There is a risk assessment with everything you do in practice. Where you are in your program too I think has something to do with it, especially us going into Year 5.

"There are some things that we can do to improve that in our drill work, and that's what will be done. As far as lining up and going live tackling so I can beat my chest...that's not what we're going to do."

While McCarthy acknowledged that pass defense will be another focal point after the team struggled against veteran quarterbacks such as Arizona's Kurt Warner, Minnesota's Brett Favre and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger last season, he added that how the Packers' season ended in the Wild Card contest at Arizona was his biggest disappointment.

After setting a franchise record with just 16 giveaways in the regular season, the Packers turned the ball over twice on their first three offensive plays, and the Cardinals rushed for 156 yards on 23 carries (6.8 avg.), the most yards allowed on the ground by Green Bay all season. Arizona's ability to pick up big chunks of yardage running the ball helped enable Warner to throw for 379 yards and five touchdowns on 29-of-33 passing while only being sacked once.

"We go out there plus-24 (turnover ratio) in the National Football League for a reason, you play all year and you take that identity into the biggest game of the year and you don't play to that," McCarthy said. "Those will be our focuses as we get ready for the players to come in."

McCarthy also spoke of the need to improve in punt production, which as of now could come from a newcomer at the position next season.

After handling the punting duties for the final four games in 2008, Jeremy Kapinos beat out Durant Brooks in a training-camp competition last year, but had his struggles in '09, finishing near the bottom of the league in net average (34.1), touchbacks (10) and kicks inside the 20 (15).

An exclusive-rights free agent, Kapinos was not tendered a contract by the team earlier this month. At that time, the only other punter on the roster was Tim Masthay, a first-year player out of the University of Kentucky that spent time with the Colts last preseason. Last week the team also added 28-year-old free agent Chris Bryan to the roster, who played four seasons in the Australian Football League but has never kicked in an American football game.

"Just from a personnel standpoint, I know the ability in our competitive punting situation today is better than it was last year," McCarthy said. "So I feel strongly that we'll be better, just from a pure productive standpoint of actually punting the football.

"I think there is more ability there. Where they are and what they have shown to this point, I think it will be noticeable to all of you guys when you see them kick for the first time. I think the talent level with those two individuals has definitely increased."

Undecided on OT change

Both McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson said Monday that they want to hear more of the discussion on a proposed rule change for overtime before making a decision on whether to support the competition committee's proposal.

Right now the overtime format is sudden death, and the competition committee is proposing a change that could give the team that loses the coin toss a possession in the extra period.

Under the proposal, if the first team that has possession scores a touchdown, the game would be over. But if that team scores a field goal, the other team would get the opportunity to either tie the game with a field goal or win with a touchdown. If both teams were to make a field goal, the next team to score would win.

The overtime change being discussed will be voted on Wednesday, and would apply only to playoff games.

{sportsad300}"The only thing that I'm curious and want to hear about is it's going to be different in the regular season and the playoffs," McCarthy said. "I just think our game is so good, and whatever the rules are, that's always been a strength of the NFL from the competitive standpoint.

"It's the same and you prepare. For Week 1 to 16 you establish yourself and you carry your game into the playoffs. I know it's not a big difference because it is another situation that you are adding for playoff football. So I'm kind of curious on that as opposed to either do it the whole season or why just in the playoffs."

Keeping their own

The Packers were able to sign several of their own unrestricted free agents earlier this month, agreeing to contract extensions with safety Nick Collins, nose tackle Ryan Pickett and offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher.

"If you look at the way we've operated the last four years, drafting and developing, playing guys early, and now having the opportunity to sign your own free agents back, that's a very productive formula for both the players and the club," McCarthy said. "I think you are just starting to see the product of that.

"If you look at our first year where you have three offensive linemen as rookies starting as opposed to now where we're going to have really good competition throughout the offensive line. You're going to be talking about 10 or 11 guys that are really going to be fighting for jobs."

Thompson called each of the veterans that re-signed "good teammates" that play a role in the team's chemistry, something he puts a lot of value in.

"They were guys that we wanted to keep," Thompson said at the league meetings. "We like the core of our team and they were part of it. We would have liked to have kept Aaron (Kampman), but that didn't work out. I've said this for a long time: sometimes your wisest investments are your investments in your own team."

Another pick

The Packers were awarded a compensatory pick in the 2010 NFL Draft on Monday, the final selection in the fifth round (169th overall pick).

Under terms of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks. The Packers lost defensive Colin Cole to Seattle during free agency last March and didn't sign any compensatory free agents.

Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council, and not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula.

A total of 32 compensatory picks were awarded to 19 teams on Monday. Those 32 choices will supplement the 223 picks in the seven rounds of the draft, and are positioned within the third through seventh rounds based on the value of the compensatory free agents lost.

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