Over the last couple of seasons, home field hasn't provided the advantage the Green Bay Packers were accustomed to for so long.
Mike McCarthy wants to get that edge back, and even though it's only a preseason game, for the first-year head coach the process starts Saturday night against the Atlanta Falcons.
"For our football team, I think it's critical that we get off on the right foot of creating that Lambeau advantage," McCarthy said. "Home-field advantage is obviously critical in the National Football League."
Combining the last three seasons, the Packers were just 12-12 at Lambeau, losing three, four and five home games from 2003-05. That's in stark contrast to the 11-year stretch from 1992 through 2002, when the Packers lost more than two home games in a season only once, in 1999.
"I think we have a special stadium, fan base, the excitement, so we need to establish the Lambeau advantage and get back to dominating at home," McCarthy said.
For this first home preseason game, McCarthy said he plans to play the starters about two quarters.
Much like San Diego, Atlanta will attack the Packers' young interior on the offensive line with an experienced defensive front. The Falcons' line includes three Pro Bowlers in tackle Rod Coleman and ends Patrick Kerney and John Abraham.
"Our young guys need to grow up, so what better group to grow up against," McCarthy said. "They're a good football team, an established football team. I think our whole preseason will be great training for us to get ready for the opener. We're going to be going against established players, so it's a great opportunity for them to develop."
McCarthy hopes to settle on a starting offensive line next week to give the unit three weeks to work together in preparation for the season opener against Chicago on Sept. 10.
But it's not just the young players McCarthy will be watching. With so much youth in the hunt for roster spots at several positions, McCarthy said he's expecting veteran players to show consistency and productivity as the preseason moves forward.
"We need to improve as far as our physical style of play, we need to improve our execution in all three phases, ... we need to improve all the way around," he said. "The San Diego game told us where we were at as a football team and that's obviously where we don't want to be."
Nights are young
Thursday night marked the eighth and final evening practice during training camp open to the public at Clarke Hinkle Field. Overall, McCarthy has been pleased with the atmosphere at the night practices and plans to keep them on the training camp schedule in the future.
"I've always been a big fan of it," McCarthy said of practicing at night. "I think it's been great for everybody. I think the fans have been fabulous. The environment is incredible. It's definitely something I'm interested in continuing."
The two-minute drill during Thursday morning's practice had a fair share of drama.
In the first series, on the opening play, Aaron Rodgers' pass was tipped at the line and intercepted by Jason Horton, setting off a raucous celebration by the defense for ending the "game" so quickly.
But the offense got plenty of revenge.
On the second series, the defense nearly got the stop again, but Ingle Martin's last-second heave to the end zone was hauled in by Ruvell Martin as the horn went off for a 54-yard touchdown.
On the third series, quarterback Brian Wrobel overcame two sacks, converted a fourth down with a 10-yard scramble, and then hit Martin on a hitch route before the field-goal unit rushed out to beat the clock. Dave Rayner then banged through a 46-yard field goal with 3 seconds left.
On the final series, Rodgers was back under center. Near midfield and with nearly 2 minutes still on the clock, he rifled a pass down the seam to Greg Jennings that was nearly intercepted and tipped by cornerback Jerron Wishom. The ball then deflected off Jennings' hands as well, but he corralled it practically without breaking stride and cruised into the end zone.
Running back Samkon Gado (groin) returned to practice for both sessions Thursday. Receiver Robert Ferguson sat out the morning with a bad back but returned in the evening. McCarthy said he hopes both will be able to play on Saturday.
He is leaning against playing safety Marquand Manuel, however, to be cautious with his recovery from a calf injury. Running back Ahman Green and linebacker Brady Poppinga also are not scheduled to play on Saturday, though McCarthy said if it were the regular season all three would likely be able to go.
Cornerback Ahmad Carroll was limited by a hamstring injury in the morning but went through the entire evening practice.
Defensive end Dave Tollefson sat out with a rib injury.
Like last Thursday, McCarthy gave about a dozen veterans the morning off to rest up and the team was back to a full squad for the evening practice.