After 18 practices against only their teammates, it's easy to understand why the Green Bay Packers are eager to get to San Diego and play their first preseason game on Saturday night.
But there's more to it than simply having an opponent to knock heads with.
The game has meaning for nearly everyone involved. For Head Coach Mike McCarthy, this will be his first game running an NFL team. For the 27 rookies currently on the roster, it will be their first taste of live, competitive action as a professional. And for the veterans who battled through a trying 4-12 campaign in 2005, it will be their fresh start.
"We want to go out there and set the tempo," tight end Bubba Franks said. "We have to establish a baseline for this team, something to build off of. I'm excited. I hope everybody is ready to play, because I am."
From a schematic standpoint, Saturday will be the Packers' first opportunity to test their new zone-blocking run scheme against a defense that isn't seeing it every day. Growing pains are expected, but there's no way to know what areas really need to be shored up until a true opponent is reacting to the plays and trying to shut them down.
"We're all new to this and it's important to get off to a good start, especially running the football, kind of setting our identity as far as what we're going to be, what kind of football team we want to be," offensive tackle Mark Tauscher said. "You can't really get a good gauge where you're at physically until you get out there and play live football."
Perhaps it's only fitting that McCarthy's first game be against the Chargers and their head coach, Marty Schottenheimer, who gave McCarthy his first opportunity in the NFL when he hired him as an assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs back in 1993.
"I have great respect for him on a personal and professional level," McCarthy said. "It will be special to be able to compete against him.
"I think it's a great way to start for our football team. I think we're going to play a very talented, physical football team. It's a great way to start your career on a bunch of different fronts."
A little extra pushing and shoving took place a couple of times during the team portion of Thursday morning's practice, an indication perhaps that the players are tired of working against one another.
Linebacker Nick Barnett and offensive tackle Tony Moll got into a brief tussle at the conclusion of one play, and defensive tackle Johnny Jolly and offensive tackle Josh Bourke did the same on another.
"I wouldn't think of them as fights," McCarthy said. "I think a couple guys just got locked up, just competing. I didn't think it was that big of a deal. But it's common ... it's time to play a football game against somebody else."
The intensity continued in the evening practice, with a brief scrum between linebacker Tim Goodwell and fullback William Henderson leading to several team members milling around, but nothing escalated. Defensive end Montez Murphy and running back Noah Herron also engaged in some post-whistle shoving at one point.
Vets get free pass
About a dozen of the healthy veteran players, including Brett Favre, Bubba Franks, Donald Driver, Mark Tauscher and Henderson, among others, were given the morning off on Thursday.
It allowed several younger players to get more reps during practice and was designed to give the veterans plenty of recuperative time before Thursday evening's full-padded workout, the last one before Saturday's preseason opener.
"It's just because of where we're at in camp and just being smart with your older players," McCarthy said.
After the late practice, McCarthy said he felt the vets benefited from the rest and had a sharper workout.
Wide receiver Greg Jennings returned to practice Thursday morning after sitting out a couple of days with a hip flexor and participated in the evening full-pads workout as well. McCarthy indicated he, Chad Clifton and Najeh Davenport, who all have been bothered by minor injuries, should be able to play on Saturday.
Tight end David Martin sat out practice with a bandage wrapped on his left hand, and cornerback Mike Hawkins appeared to have his knee flare up on him again. Defensive end Kenny Peterson dropped out of the evening practice with an ankle injury sustained during goal-line situations.
Carpet on the way
General Manager Ted Thompson said there will be carpeting installed over the concrete behind the red-zone areas of the field where Nick Collins slipped and fell last Saturday. Collins had no chance to stop as he went out of bounds once his cleats came in contact with the concrete, but he was not seriously hurt.
"We're getting carpet," Thompson said. "I don't know if it's on the truck today, but it's coming. It's supposed to be installed (next week) Thursday or Friday."