Packers Kick Off Fifth Annual Fan Fest


Coming off a season that fell short of their expectations, the Packers and their fans looked ahead to the '09 campaign Friday night at the team's fifth annual Fan Fest at Lambeau Field.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson both took the stage during opening ceremonies and were greeted warmly by those in attendance, a number that was expected to exceed 3,000 people for the weekend.

"This is always a great event," Thompson said in a televised interview that was live for the crowd at Fan Fest. "Nobody believes that we can put something like this on in March and have it sold out every year with tons of people here and everybody having a good time. It's a wonderful time to be a Packer."

This year's event, which will also run all day Saturday, will include appearances by current and alumni players, autograph sessions, an exclusive tour to the Packers locker room, a question-and-answer session with new defensive coordinator Dom Capers, and '101' sessions with other members of the coaching staff, with focuses on offense, defense, special teams, strength and conditioning, college scouting, NFL athletic training and NFL equipment.

"It's a great event," McCarthy said during availability with local media early Friday evening. "It's something that really hits you hard when you first see it because you don't expect it. You hear about it and you don't really believe it until you go through it.

"I'm excited for our new coaches to go through it today. You always hear about the great fans in Green Bay, and this is clearly an illustration of it. There is nothing like Fan Fest, and it's a nice opportunity to spend some time with our fans, especially in the month of March."

With the defense transitioning to a 3-4 alignment as their base scheme under Capers, the Packers are in the midst of preparations for the draft. Green Bay is slated to have four selections in the top 83 picks, including the ninth overall selection.

"We obviously have some very high picks in the draft," McCarthy said. "This is a class that can definitely give us a big boost as a football team because of where we are selecting.

"We are trying to improve, whether it is through free agency, whether it's through the draft or whether it's doing a better job with our offseason program because we do have change in our schemes and so forth, and we're going to be a better football team in 2009."

Earlier this week the Packers signed free agent safety Anthony Smith, who played the past three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and brings familiarity with the defensive system the team will be implementing.

"Free agency is definitely not over," McCarthy said. "It's something that we'll keep an eye on. The market has established itself, you could definitely say in some areas. There are also people still coming available and the talent pool still has a chance to change."

A crucial area that has been emphasized under McCarthy and will continue to be starts Monday with players reporting for the team's offseason program, which includes time in the weight room as well as players meeting individually with their position coaches. The workouts will be led by new strength and conditioning coordinator Dave Redding, who brings 22 years of NFL experience to Green Bay.

"Frankly, 2009 for us as a football team starts Monday with the offseason program," McCarthy said. "I think we have done a very good job throughout the years. Our first three years I think every year our offseason program has improved.

{sportsad300}"I really felt very good about what we accomplished coming out of last year's offseason program, and we're going to try to top that. That's our goal. That's installing a new defensive scheme. We've got a new special teams coordinator (Shawn Slocum). We want individual improvement throughout our roster."

After a 6-10 season that included seven losses by four or fewer points, what the Packers accomplish this offseason will be critical in determining what level of success the team has in '09.

"We want to improve on what we did last year," McCarthy said. "There are some things I thought we did a very good job of last year as far as the individual improvement with the individual time spent between the players and the coaches. That's something I want to maintain again this offseason.

"I think we can maybe get a little more out of the weight room this time around. Once again, I can recall our coaching staff walking out of the building on June 17 last year feeling very good about our offseason program and what we accomplished. That standard needs to be met or exceeded this offseason."

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