Q&A With Head Coach Mike McCarthy

As he embarks on his second season at the helm of the Green Bay Packers, Head Coach Mike McCarthy took a few minutes this week to answer some questions in an exclusive Q&A with Packers.com. Here is a transcript of that interview, in which McCarthy addresses the final roster cutdown, the potential of the Packers defense, and what it will take to get off to a good start in 2007: - More Packers-Eagles Gameday

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As he embarks on his second season at the helm of the Green Bay Packers, Head Coach Mike McCarthy took a few minutes this week to answer some questions in an exclusive Q&A with Packers.com. Here is a transcript of that interview:

You've just finished finalizing the 53-man roster with Ted Thompson. How much harder were some of those final decisions this year than your first season?

I felt it was a lot harder this year. This year's football team was a lot harder team to make. We had a number of players, whether it was injury, the timing of their injuries, ... we had a couple young players who played very well who got caught in a numbers situation. It was a lot tougher this year to cut this football team. Good problems. You never have enough good football players, and that's really the situation you want to be in year in and year out.

You kept 11 defensive linemen and 10 defensive backs on the roster. That's 40 percent of your players at two position groups. Why so many players there, and what difference will that make?

Ted Thompson and I clearly stated throughout the offseason and training camp that we would keep the best 53 players. I'm of the opinion if you do not do that, you will be on this cycle where the bottom half of your roster does not get totally upgraded. By keeping the best 53 players, it gives us the opportunity to create continuity and depth in some areas as we continue to improve the others.

The competition at running back didn't play out as expected in training camp, due to several injuries. With all the injuries and inexperience, can this running game be productive enough to complement Brett Favre?

I'm very comfortable that we'll do whatever it takes to win football games. Running the football is an important part of a successful offense. I'm confident we'll get that done.

Your team is the second-youngest in the NFL this season. The only one younger is the defending champion Indianapolis Colts. What do you make of that?

That's the makeup of our football team. We're in the second year of our program. We've been able to acquire a number of players through the draft, and that directly reflects the youth we have on our team. But the most important thing is the amount of talent we've been able to amass on our football team, and we'll take their abilities, be specific to what they can do, and put them in position to be successful. Every team has a different makeup, and that's the makeup of our football team. (With the Colts) I think it's really the product of the salary cap and everything that's going on throughout the NFL. They're the Super Bowl champions, they lost a number of veterans off of that Super Bowl team, and they've replaced them through the draft. I think that's why they're in that position. Our position of being younger was a different path. I think our football teams are structured differently.

Getting off to a fast start has been talked about a lot, yet a Packers team hasn't won two of its first three games since 2002. Can this team change that trend, and how?

We definitely are taking the approach to change it. It's very important to win games at home, and two out of our first three are at home, so that is an opportunity we need to take advantage of. Playing in your home environment, in front of a tremendous crowd, are all things that give you the ability to play downhill. Now, the things that happen in the beginning of the season traditionally in the NFL are factors in a football game we need to be sure to overcome. The opponent is going to have unscouted looks, we need to be prepared for that. Ball security is usually an issue in earlier games in the season. Officiating is a lot tighter earlier in the season. So there are some tendencies of the way early-season games go, and we've educated our players on that. A lot of them are just emphasizing fundamentals of the football game, and we need to just come out and play a smart, tough, fundamentally sound football game against the Eagles.

{sportsad300}You're facing four 2006 playoff teams in the season's first five weeks. Do you look at that as a daunting task or an opportunity to make an early statement in 2007?

It's an opportunity to line up against some very good football teams that have had success in the recent past. So I think we will answer some questions about our team and where we are. But every week is a challenge in the NFL, and we will approach every week the same and make sure we are ready for our opponent and give our players a chance to win the game. Being aggressive in our approach, being fundamentally sound in our approach, to make sure at the end of the day that those players had a chance to win that football game.

It's often said players make the biggest jump from their first year to their second in the NFL. Does that mean the improvement of your second-year starters - A.J. Hawk, Greg Jennings, Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz - will be the biggest key to improving on last year's 8-8 record?

Individual improvement in the offseason was one thing we had the most of. You could see it throughout the spring. It was very evident in my view during training camp, and it ultimately needs to factor in the outcome of winning football games. We've had a number of young players that have improved, whether they're going into their second or third year. It's the continuity you're striving for, the consistency you're striving for, that helps good football teams come together as fast as possible. That will be the key to us winning early in the season.

The Chicago Bears have set the standard in recent years for defensive play in the NFC North Division, and the NFC as a whole. Can the 2007 Green Bay defense approach that level, in your opinion?

We have the physical ability to, we have the mindset and confidence to at this point. We need to do it day in and day out, week in and week out on Sundays, and those things will take care of themselves. The way our defense played at the end of the season last year, and they've picked up where they left off and showed their ability to be a big-time defense in preseason. But all the games are for real now. They'll definitely be a catalyst for our success.

Last year, players like Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins emerged as significant forces on defense. Who might be the next defensive player to truly step into the spotlight?

We have a couple guys who can step into that role. I think our inside players - Ryan Pickett doesn't get enough credit for the level of player he is. I think Johnny Jolly is a young and up-and-coming player going into his second year who I think will definitely impact our defense. Corey Williams did a lot of good things last year, particularly in pass rush, and has shown a lot of flexibility this year playing both defensive end and defensive tackle. I think he's a guy we'll talk a lot about. With the linebacker group, Brady Poppinga is much improved from last year, and A.J. Hawk. Nick Barnett is at the level in his career that when we do have the winning season he'll be a lot more recognized. Our corners speak for themselves. They're veterans that have been in there and played at a high level in the past, and we expect them to play at that level too. And I think we have two young, exciting safeties that could really grow into impact players. We have a lot of depth at the corner position, a lot of depth at the D-line position, so it's a defense that's really set up for a big year.

With Brett Favre's career winding down, do you feel a sense of urgency to get him one final shot at a playoff run?

We all have the sense of urgency to get in the playoffs, so to answer the question, yes. We'll do everything we can possible to win week in and week out, starting with the Philadephia Eagles.

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