OTA Preview: Offense Pushing Forward

The Green Bay Packers’ four weeks of organized team activities (OTAs) begin next week. Packers.com caught up with the three coordinators on the Packers coaching staff and got their thoughts on the goals, objectives and points of emphasis they have for their units over the next month. Those thoughts are being presented in a three-part OTA preview series, beginning with the offense.


*The Green Bay Packers' four weeks of organized team activities (OTAs) begin next week. Workouts, all in shorts and without pads, will be open to the public once per week, weather permitting, beginning Thursday, May 28 (the other open dates are the following three Wednesdays - June 3, 10 and 17).

After OTAs will be a three-day full-squad mandatory mini-camp from June 22-24 before the players take a roughly five-week break prior to the start of training camp. The first training camp practice is Saturday, Aug. 1.

Packers.com caught up with the three coordinators on the Packers coaching staff - Joe Philbin on offense, Dom Capers on defense and Shawn Slocum for special teams - and got their thoughts on the goals, objectives and points of emphasis they have for their units over the next month.

Those thoughts are being presented in a three-part OTA preview series, beginning today with the offense. The other two previews will follow early next week.*

Of the team's three phases, offense is the one with the most continuity heading into 2009. The defense is implementing a new 3-4 scheme, while special teams has a new coordinator in Shawn Slocum.

But that doesn't mean offensive coordinator Joe Philbin is resting on the success his unit had a year ago, when it produced a 4,000-yard passer (Aaron Rodgers), a 1,200-yard rusher (Ryan Grant), and two 1,000-yard receivers (Donald Driver and Greg Jennings) for the first time in team history.

The bottom line is the team was still 6-10 and didn't qualify for the playoffs, and the offense will need to be more productive, and more consistent, in 2009 for that record to improve. To this point, the offseason program has focused on strength and conditioning work and individual time with position coaches. Now the transition begins, taking those offseason gains and applying them to the on-field work with the full team.

"It looks to me like the guys are in good shape physically," Philbin said. "We're probably a little bit further ahead as a coaching staff than we were a year ago. Unfortunately we had more time to get ready for this. It's a double-edged sword, and I think it's a little bit the same for the players. I'm hoping they're a little hungrier and more antsy to get started this year than maybe a year ago."

Here's a look at several areas Philbin sees as focal points for the offense and the offensive coaching staff during the upcoming month:

Exposure to the system and its changes. Every offseason during the scheme evaluation process, the coaching staff devises some tweaks and new wrinkles for the offense based on a comprehensive film study of the prior year. This could include new plays out of a familiar formation, or a new formation designed to better execute a given play.

The OTAs provide the first chance for the full unit to install those changes, as well as the first extensive exposure to the offense as a whole to rookies and any other newcomers.

"Whether they're guys that have been with us nine years or guys that have been with us since the draft, we have to basically get our offense taught so there's a certain comfort level with all the players," Philbin said. "The good thing for the new guys is they don't know any changes we made from last year anyway, so that doesn't matter to them. For the veterans, there are some subtle things we've studied in the offseason and we want to make sure everybody is on the same page from a schematic standpoint."

Emphasis on situations. All the different offensive situations will get their due - third down, red zone, goal line, two-minute, etc. - but Philbin noted there will be specific attention paid to the two-minute drill, which fell short of expectations a year ago, most notably in the fact that the team lost seven games by four points or less.

Whether it's simply getting points on that two-minute drive or getting a touchdown rather than settling for a field goal, the two-minute drill will get plenty of emphasis.

"We're going to practice that more often, devote more time to it," Philbin said. "Obviously you believe as a coach if you place a certain emphasis on something, your hope is and your anticipation is it's going to improve and it's going to get better. That's one part of our game we looked at that we really think we have to improve on and we're taking some steps we think to become more productive."

Battling the 3-4. For the first time, Head Coach Mike McCarthy's version of the West Coast offense will work against a 3-4 defense on a daily basis, and with a significant number of 3-4 teams on the 2009 schedule, including Cleveland, Dallas, San Francisco, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, it should help.

"We're going to be exposed to a defense we haven't seen a whole lot of in the two years I've been the coordinator," Philbin said. "There's a little learning curve there, and we're excited about getting out there and practicing against it on a daily basis. Down the road it's going to pay dividends for us."

The second-year QBs. For 2008 draft picks Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm, OTAs last year were a bit of a whirlwind, as expected. This year, after one season and an offseason in McCarthy's quarterback school, they have a far greater understanding of the offense and of the speed of the pro game.

The Packers have not signed any additional quarterbacks, so it will be up to these two to duke it out for the backup job behind Rodgers. Like other position battles, this one won't be decided in June, but it will be getting started.

"We want to see how much of a difference a year makes for those guys," Philbin said. "Are they playing faster? Are they throwing the ball better mechanically? Velocity, accuracy, timing, faster decision-making, those types of things. You want to see all of it. It will be fun watching to get a gauge of where they're at."

Full-time participation from Grant. Last year, Grant sat out the voluntary OTAs during contract negotiations and missed all of the on-field spring work, plus the first week of training camp. Then he promptly injured his hamstring and ran roughly the first half of the season at less than 100 percent.

{sportsad300}He still rushed for 1,200 yards, so there's still some curiosity surrounding just how productive Grant might be if he's a full participant from now until the season opener.

"You have a specific purpose for practice, with specific objectives, so you believe guys are going to improve and get better if have the right attitude and put forth the proper effort on the field," Philbin said. "All that said, if he's out there and working with the type of work ethic he does have, I would think he's going to be a better player. He should be, and I think it's going to pay big dividends for him, number one, and residually for us, number two."

Concentration on fundamentals and the start of the evaluation process. The offense won't be game-planning specifically against the defense's 3-4 alignment, so the crux of execution comes down to honing the fundamentals. As a longtime offensive line coach, Philbin harps on fundamentals as a routine part of practice, and that won't change during OTAs.

As far as player evaluation goes, jobs won't be won or lost without pads on, particularly in the wide-open competitions at positions like right tackle and fullback. Full-contact practices in training camp will be the primary, as well as final, barometer there. But the OTAs do begin the evaluation process, particularly during team (11-on-11) periods when live adjustments pop up.

"Some of the physical things, you have to reserve some judgment until the pads get on," Philbin said. "But the situational work -- linemen picking up a twist, receivers adjusting to different coverages, quarterbacks making good decisions, backs making blitz pickups - all those things are extremely beneficial for us offensively.

"We'll look to expose your guys, get them in the fire a little bit, and see how they respond, see what kind of poise they have. Did they keep their cool? Did they make a lot of mental mistakes? It's not always bad to throw a lot at them and see what they can digest."

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