Season-Opening Q & A With Head Coach Mike McCarthy

Head Coach Mike McCarthy has his team ready to embark on its fourth season with him at the helm. McCarthy sat down for a few moments with this week to get his thoughts on the start of the new season, one in which the Packers will feature Aaron Rodgers in his second year as a starting quarterback and a new defensive scheme, the 3-4 under Dom Capers. Here’s a transcript of the conversation.


*Training camp and the preseason games are complete for the Green Bay Packers, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy has his team ready to embark on its fourth season with him at the helm.

McCarthy sat down for a few moments with this week to get his thoughts on the start of the new season, one in which the Packers will feature Aaron Rodgers in his second year as a starting quarterback and a new defensive scheme, the 3-4 under Dom Capers. Here's a transcript of the conversation.*

Considering how well the first-team units performed in the preseason, how excited are you to get the regular season underway?

Well, I'm excited to start the year because this is what all the work goes into. You look at your offseason, your training camp, we've had production during the preseason. But this is what everybody looks forward to. Really, I don't think a whole lot about how the preseason went. It's all about hitting targets, trying to get to a certain level of play. But we're excited about lining up against Chicago.

What is your biggest concern with this team right now?

Just the same concern I have every year. You want to start fast. I think it really starts in your preparation. Anytime you go from 75 players to 53, there's an adjustment in the way you practice and how you practice just from a structural standpoint. I was glad to get started on Monday, to have the extra day of practice, just because it's different. It really starts in stretch. You look out there during stretching and it's like, my goodness, where did everybody go? It looks like there's hardly anybody out there. It's all part of building up through your preparation and getting ready for Sunday.

How would you evaluate where you are with the 3-4 defense? Are you ahead of where you thought you'd be? Did you hit the targets you wanted to hit?

You answer those questions in real games. We have not lined up and played 60 minutes as a defense, offense or special teams. I think we've done a very good job progressing to this point, getting ready for the first game. But the true evaluation starts against Chicago.

We've heard that teams will be game-planning for the 3-4 now when they weren't in the preseason. Do you need to temper the players' enthusiasm for the defense a little bit after all the turnovers they generated this past month?

We just look at the facts. You look at what you're able to accomplish on film, and you learn from that, and you stay focused on yourself. We're not really concerned with who game-planned for us in the preseason or all those other factors. We just look at how we're playing, make sure we're doing the right things communicating, make sure we have our eyes in the right place and we're doing the right things. We stay focused on our own performance, and that will never change.

Because the starters always come out early, one thing the preseason games don't give you is the end-of-game, crunch-time scenarios, which hurt this team on both sides of the ball last year. But you did work on those a lot during live training camp periods with the 2-minute drill. Do you feel there will be improvement, or do you have to see it in a game first?

I do expect improvement, because I think problem-solving has a very straightforward solution. You need to emphasize it. Anytime you have a problem in a specific area, you need to identify the specific area, break down the problems in that area, and you need to emphasize it. And we've done that. We've spent a lot more time on the 2-minute drill on both sides of the ball. We've spent more time this year on 4-minute offense than we have in the past. I'm a big believer our work will pay off.

Aaron Rodgers has a full season's worth of experience, but opponents have a year's worth of film on him to study as well. How does he stay ahead of the game there?

The way he stays ahead of the game is he runs the offense. It's our responsibility as coaches to keep him on the front end of the curve that goes on in the National Football League. Defenses are gearing up to stop offenses every year, and offenses are gearing up to stay ahead of the defenses. It's an ongoing process. If we do our jobs as coaches to put him in position to be successful, that's the first step, and the second part is he needs to execute and run the offense.

In the offseason you talked about getting players set in positions on the offensive line and establishing some continuity. Do you feel you've accomplished that better heading into this season than in the past?

The facts are what they are. This is the earliest we've ever set our offensive line, so to answer your question, yes, we've given them more time to play with some continuity, so hopefully that will pay off when we start.

What was your thought process in going with an entirely new right side of the offensive line in Josh Sitton and Allen Barbre?

The experience isn't what it's been, and that's obvious with the departure of Mark Tauscher, but I think it's clearly a physical right side. They are young. It's two young men that I think all their football is in front of them. We look for them to continue to work and improve. They're both very competitive, physical, tough-guy type players, and I'm excited about that.

{sportsad300}For the first time in your tenure, you have a lot of new coaches around you. How has the staff come together in your eyes?

I think Dom Capers has done a great job with the defensive staff. We've had opportunities to do some things outside of football as a full staff, to get to know everybody on a personal level, with the families of the new coaches, so that's always a positive. But as far as the work environment, it's a great work environment. It's a very hard-working group. I think our work ethic has improved, even moreso this year than it has in the past, and I think that's really a tribute to everybody, because everybody is stepping up and pushing more. That's a part of having an environment of growth. Growth is not just about the players' improvement, it's also about the coaching staff and the other support-staff members striving to improve every year also.

Where have you seen the biggest change or benefit to having new strength and conditioning coordinator Dave Redding on this team?

It's about environment, it's about leadership. There's a salesmanship that also goes with coaching today's athlete. They have to be motivated. Players today are more educated as far as the different options out there than probably in the past. There's just so much more information in today's world, specifically in the sporting world, and especially in strength and conditioning. I think the players are exposed to more in their college days, and there's so much more availability in the private sector. I think it's very important for your strength and conditioning staff to have to sell the players on our program here in Green Bay, and I think Dave Redding has done an outstanding job of that.

Where do you expect improvement on special teams under Shawn Slocum?

Fundamentals and technique and finish. Those are the three things we talk about week in and week out from the day Shawn took over. Schematically, our volume is not going to be as high. But we need to do a better job on the fundamental aspects of special teams. We need to improve with the new techniques that Shawn has implemented, and get better at them each week and stay after them in our practice structure. And we have to finish better. We need to win the second and third reaction that we're getting from our opponents.

You've never used injuries as an excuse, but there's no doubt they damaged the team's chances last year. Do you feel this year's team has more depth to compensate better for injuries that may arise?

I hope so. We still have some young players on defense, probably moreso this year than last year. We had injuries to key players on defense, and that's very unfortunate. But the second part of that is you have to be able to handle those injuries, and you have to create opportunities for the new players to be productive. I think definitely with this new scheme we've addressed that. We'll probably use more combinations of players in this year's defense than we have in the past, and hopefully that will help us.

Analysts are talking about the NFC North as one of the most intriguing division races to watch this year. How do you see it?

I've always felt the NFC North is competitive in my time here. I had a chance to be in this division as an assistant in 1999. We've had the Bears as a representative in the Super Bowl, and we've been in the NFC Championship Game. I think the division as a whole, there's young teams that are improving. I think Detroit is a young team that's improving, and we've been the youngest team in the league, and we'll be young again this year also if you just look at the overall age of our football team. And Minnesota and Chicago are very good football teams. So I think it's going to be an extremely competitive division this year.

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