The Packers concluded OTAs at The Don Hutson Center on Thursday with their 12th and final practice, and now look ahead to next week's mini-camp as they utilize a different practice format from last season, one that Head Coach Mike McCarthy is confident will pay dividends for the team.
In McCarthy's second season at the helm in 2007, the Packers held their rookie orientation camp the weekend after the draft and followed that up two weeks later with the full-squad mandatory mini-camp. The OTA practices were held after the mini-camp to wrap up the offseason as the team looked ahead to training camp.
The Packers changed the schedule this year, with their offseason work concluding with next week's mini-camp, to be held Tuesday-Thursday.
"It's a schedule that I prefer because it gives you a chance to really get more out of the mini-camp because April, right after the draft, you are only three or four weeks, or at the most five or six weeks into your offseason program," McCarthy said. "I don't know if it's in the best interest of your team to get out there and try to get something done. You've got players coming off of injuries or surgeries, and you have a draft class that is just trying to find their way from the classroom to the practice field. I just think it makes more sense from a progression standpoint of teaching, and that's why we went to this new format."
Because of all the areas that the team was able to focus on during OTAs, including installation, this year's mini-camp will place much more of an emphasis on cleaning up those aspects that the team needs work in.
"We have taken our practice schedule for next week and we're going to hit all of the different situations, all the different types of pressure packages that we anticipate seeing and so forth," McCarthy said. "We're going to put that in the practice plan and then the defense is also going to go back and clean the things up that they want to hit one more time before we release the players for the break before training camp."
For the players, the work already completed this offseason will make for a more competitive atmosphere on the field next week.
"Once we get to mini-camp I think we're going to game-plan against the offense and they're going to game-plan against us," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "It will be more of an in-season type of workout. At least for guys that haven't been around that, it will be good to see, and for a guy like me it will be good to get back to that and used to what we are going to do during the season."
Another aspect of the OTAs that pleased McCarthy was the increased attendance by players, something that was not emphasized as much during his first stint with the Packers as quarterbacks coach in 1999.
"It makes me feel good that they are here because I want them here," McCarthy said. "I know the way it was in the past in Green Bay, I don't agree with that method. That is why we don't do it that way. It's a method that I have always been a part of. I go back to 1993 (in Kansas City), and I tell our players this all of the time, that was my first year of coaching and Joe Montana flew in for all of the OTAs."
Hawk also noted the attendance at offseason workouts increasing during McCarthy's tenure, and credited the organization and the type of players that the Packers focus on in the draft and free agency.
"Guys want to be here and they want to be accountable," Hawk said. "Our front office does a good job of getting high-character guys that want to be here and want to compete, and that's what we've been doing for the last 12 practices. The guys enjoy being around each other and enjoy playing together, so I think it's something that is going to continue that way, especially with Coach McCarthy here."
McCarthy said the success the Packers enjoyed last season also likely played a part in this offseason's high level of participation by his players. For a team that tied a franchise record with 13 wins but ultimately fell short of their goal, the sting of last year's loss in the NFC Championship to the New York Giants has only provided more fuel during these camps.
"Just talking to everybody on the team, we were so close to getting to our goal last year," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "It's just like a taste in everyone's mouth that we want to get here and get better. We want to straighten the things that we did bad last year and make a run for it."
McCarthy said that defensive tackles Johnny Jolly, Justin Harrell, cornerback Will Blackmon and probably defensive tackle Colin Cole will be sidelined through next week's mini-camp.
"We anticipate those guys at some point in training camp being ready to go," McCarthy said.
Rookie tight end Jermichael Finley, who suffered a bruised knee in a collision while he was going up for a catch in last Wednesday's practice, may participate next week, according to McCarthy.
McCarthy said that he has been impressed with how rookie quarterbacks Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn have picked up the offense during OTAs, and that the pair, along with starter Aaron Rodgers, have benefited from the increased number of reps they have received with the team only carrying three quarterbacks on the roster.
"I think you can just see two young quarterbacks finding a little bit of comfort out there," McCarthy said. "Brian has been exceptional. Matt has really turned it on. It's a lot of information to process in four weeks."
Hall of a trip
All of the Packers rookie players will travel to Canton, Ohio, on Friday to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The team's tour will be headed up by director of player development Rob Davis and will include speakers representing former NFL players, Hall of Fame personnel and others.
This is the first year that the league has implemented this tour for all NFL rookies as an expanded part of their annual orientation program. The trips are designed to teach incoming players about the history of pro football and give them a greater appreciation of the NFL and the responsibility and opportunity that comes with being in the league.