Starting Monday, Offseason Program Provides Opportunity To Improve


Tramon Williams was one of the Packers' young players who benefited greatly from the offseason program a year ago, going from longshot to key contributor in 2007.

When the Green Bay Packers' 2007 season is recorded in the history books, it will be duly noted that the four-game winning streak to conclude 2006 was the springboard to the four-game winning streak that began a memorable 2007.

What won't be so duly noted, but was just as (if not more) valuable, was all the work put in between those winning streaks, work that begins once again Monday with the offseason program.

First- and second-year players begin their offseason workouts on Monday, followed by veteran players two weeks later, on March 31.

The offseason program is a time during which players combine strength and conditioning workouts with one-on-one instructional time with their position coaches, and for one of the youngest teams in the NFL, the strides made a year ago during this time paid significant dividends.

"Players did a great job of coming in individually and spending time with their coaches, and the individual improvement we made throughout our football team was clearly evident once we started our OTAs and our mini-camps," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "And it really carried over into training camp."

The successful offseason program created a domino effect. With players committed to the workouts and instruction time (which is limited by league regulations) in March and April, individual improvement was made by the time mini-camps and OTAs (organized team activities) began in May and June.

That allowed all of the offensive and defensive installations to occur during mini-camps and OTAs, making training camp more of a review that was focused on preparing to play games and battling for roster spots, not learning schemes.

"Our installations were in place at a lot quicker pace, the volume of information we were able to get through as a football team was clearly evident in May, and we were able to basically just repeat everything in training camp," McCarthy said. "The learning opportunity was maximized by our players, which gave us the chance to come out of training camp starting fast.

"There wasn't a whole lot of learning going on in training camp. It was more about competing and coming together as a football team."

The Packers did that, going 4-0 in September after winning no more than one game in that month in any of the previous three seasons.

They hope to follow that same learning curve in 2008. Though there's no way to replicate the five-win jump from 8-8 to 13-3, improvement is needed to vault the Packers from being a playoff team to a championship one.

While McCarthy felt nearly every player benefited in some way from the offseason program a year ago, he did note a few standouts. Defensive backs Tramon Williams and Atari Bigby, defensive tackle Johnny Jolly, receiver Greg Jennings, and several of the young offensive linemen all made significant gains and played key roles in 2007.

Williams was a particularly interesting case as a practice squad player at the end of 2006 who was considered a longshot to make the team in 2007. His strong offseason program put him in position to compete for a roster spot in training camp, and he came through, eventually working his way into a role as a nickelback and kick returner last season.

"It gives the opportunity to build individual confidence and experience within their position," McCarthy said.

{sportsad300}It's not just the young players, either. For example, McCarthy felt veteran linebacker Nick Barnett had his best season yet in 2007, starting with the work he put in during the offseason program to get ready for training camp, and his year took off from there.

"Older players can improve too," McCarthy said. "The level of improvement should come more in your younger players because they lack the experience, they've lacked the opportunity to have the one-on-one time to really clarify their assignments and their mindsets. But older players can improve also."

A few of Green Bay's veterans have their own offseason regimens and will continue to do those on their own rather than participate fully in the Packers' in-house program, which is voluntary but has seen excellent attendance under McCarthy. Those few veterans likely will still participate in at least some portion beyond the spring's mandatory mini-camp.

Also starting Monday as part of the offseason program is McCarthy's quarterback school. Aaron Rodgers for the first time will go through QB school preparing to be the starter, while youngsters Jerry Babb and Dalton Bell will be the developmental prospects.

"The offseason program is a key component of our whole football program," McCarthy said. "It's really the starting point of everything we do. It's an opportunity for the coaches to teach in an environment that's at a pace that benefits the individual."

So that, hopefully, the pace benefits the team later on.

"It's so important to start fast in this league, and everybody is trying to accomplish the same thing," McCarthy said. "Whatever your plan is that puts you in position to do that, that's what you gear towards."

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