LITTLE SUAMICO, Wis. – It started like any other day during the Packers’ offseason program. The daily schedule was posted in the team meeting room, as players began mentally preparing for the eighth practice of organized team activities.
Then, to roaring applause and laughter, a change of plans was immediately announced. Instead of hitting the practice field, the team would be getting onto buses for the Packers’ annual team-building exercise.
“You always get those moments when you’re getting into the day, getting focused in and then they bring light to it and bring some fun,” linebacker Blake Martinez said. “It’s a cool moment. It’s fun to see the rookies’ reaction to it all.”
This year’s off-site trip took the players and coaching staff back to Little Creek Lodge on a sporting clays excursion. It’s the fourth time the Packers have made the 25-minute trip north for the event during Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s tenure.
Other team-building exercises the Packers have done in the past have included bowling, dodgeball, paint ball, and a gauntlet of made-up games and activities.
Once players and coaches arrived at the range, they were divided into groups of five or six, and sent out on golf carts to one of 20 different stations. Local police officers and range employees staffed each station, assisting players and staff and offering tips to hit targets.
The level of skill varied, but every player was given a tutorial at each of the various stations. Some, like tight end Lance Kendricks, were naturals who hit far more often than they missed. For running back Aaron Jones, it was his first exposure to sporting clays and everything that goes into the sport.
The Packers took an off-site team-building trip to Little Creek Lodge in Little Suamico on a sporting clays excursion
“I think it’s just sort of hand-eye coordination for me and a little bit of ‘Call of Duty,’” said Kendricks with a smile. “It kind of helps to step away a little bit. We’ll get back after it (Wednesday), but it’s good to get a nice little break and enjoy the sun.”
There also were some experienced participants on the course, as well. Kicker Mason Crosby enjoys bird hunting in his free time, while linebacker Jake Ryan has been a fixture on the range since he was 18.
While the team-building exercise was up his alley of interests, Ryan looks forward to the annual event because of how it helps players and coaches from different positional groups get to know one another better.
This year was particularly helpful because of how many new coaches the Packers have on both sides of the ball, including offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
“You get these new guys who come in and you get to spend time with them,” Ryan said. “I’m with Coach Philbin today, who I don’t normally get to talk to much or be in his meetings. It’s always good to get around guys you don’t normally spend time with during the day.”
The inaccuracy of some generated a chorus of laughter and led to some unexpected bonding. When defensive lineman Dean Lowry finally hit his first target of the day midway through the course, his group let out of a collective cheer.
Center Corey Linsley doesn’t fancy himself a marksman, but can laugh at his missed targets.
“Oh, I’m terrible,” said Linsley, playfully. “I’m the worst one out here by far. The only other time I’ve shot clay pigeons was the last time we did this. That’s it. I’m bad. But it’s still fun.”
While most veterans know the team-building exercise is going to happen at some point during the final stretch of the offseason program, it’s often a complete surprise to the incoming rookies.
Fifth-round draft pick Marquez Valdes-Scantling was stunned when he discovered the team would be forgoing practice for a team-building event Tuesday.
“I had no idea. It was completely random,” Valdes-Scantling said. “It’s definitely a good experience. This is my first time going to this kind of range and doing it with my teammates. It’s a quick day off to settle in and have some fun, and get away from all the football side of it. Go out and enjoy nature.”
Crosby and receiver Randall Cobb have been a part of several team-building events during their tenures in Green Bay and have seen how a few hours away from Lambeau Field can go a long way in building chemistry in the locker room.
“It’s always fun and something a little different,” Cobb said. “It’s being able to talk and get to know some of our teammates that we normally wouldn’t. We spend a lot of time with our position group and with the offense every day, so (it’s nice) meeting people and coaches across the ball.”
Offensive lineman Lucas Patrick previously participated in a charity sporting clays event and took pride in hitting both targets at a few different stations, while Martinez was pleased that he managed to hit at least one target at nearly every stop.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebackers Vince Biegel and Kyler Fackrell, fullback Joe Kerridge, and a few others also gained praise for their marksmanship throughout the morning.
Whether the participants hit the targets or not, a lot of new friendships were forged between returning veterans and the dozens of players who were acquired this offseason.
At the end of the day, that’s why McCarthy marks off a day each year to give his players a brief break from football and focus on building the latest Green Bay Packers team.
“It’s cool to meet and interact with everybody,” Martinez said. “Meeting Zach (Triner) and Kyle (Meadows), guys that you’re not used to bonding with on a daily basis being on defense. It’s just been awesome to get out here, have fun and laugh at each other for missing so many shots.”