Training Camp Report: Physical Play A Constant Through First Week

The way the Packers have been practicing these first four days of training camp, there’s nothing newfangled about the on-field work. It’s been good ol’ fashioned, hard-hitting, physical play from the very first workout, with five of the six practices in full pads prior to the team’s first off day on Wednesday. - More Press Conference Transcripts - Aug. 4: Mike McCarthy | Ted Thompson


During his tenure with the Green Bay Packers, Head Coach Mike McCarthy has implemented a few unorthodox parts to training camp, such as regular night practices and Wednesday rest-and-recover days.

Those elements still exist in 2009, but the way the Packers have been practicing these first four days of training camp, there's nothing newfangled about the on-field work. It's been good ol' fashioned, hard-hitting, physical play from the very first workout, with five of the six practices in full pads prior to the team's first off day on Wednesday.

"This is the most physical camp I've been through so far, and it's only been, how many, three days, four days?" nose tackle Ryan Pickett said. "It's been physical, man. It's like coach has us back in the old-school days. It's helping, though. It's helping everybody out, I think. We're enjoying it, but it's rough."

Seeing players cramp up at times, despite relatively mild summer temperatures, is one indication of the physical exertion. Pads have been popping and facemasks banging on occasion too.

Then during Tuesday night's practice, the physicality stepped up another notch.

All the contact noise was a little louder on some of the hits, particularly as defenders were getting in position to make tackles. Linebacker Desmond Bishop delivered hits to a couple of running backs, as did safety Aaron Rouse.

Not unexpectedly, the physical play eventually crossed the line and got guys riled up, as a post-play scrum involving Bishop and center/guard Jason Spitz prompted McCarthy to call the team together and issue a stern plea to knock off the extra-curriculars.

"I think the energy level, the spirit is normal," McCarthy said. "And I'm fine with the activity, as long as it's during the play. I didn't appreciate some of the stuff that was going on after the plays were over. I thought we cleaned that up."

But then linebacker Brady Poppinga leveled running back Kregg Lumpkin after Lumpkin caught a short dump-off pass in the flat. The high hit de-cleated Lumpkin, who quickly hopped up off his backside and continued running, but it led to a few offensive players coming to Lumpkin's defense and going after Poppinga.

Tempers were calmed down in short order, and though McCarthy didn't see Poppinga's hit, he said after practice that it was clearly unnecessary, and an unwanted injury risk. But he joked that in general the physicality may be a good sign because the team didn't have a single fight in training camp last year before going 6-10.

"The frustration level gets high, they're competing, they're fighting for jobs," McCarthy said. "The team's coming together. That's why we're in training camp. I think that's normal."

McCarthy did cancel the team's Wednesday morning weightlifting session in part because of the number of players banged up, and also to take more time to review practice film.

At times there have been a few too many bodies on the ground as plays are finishing, but thus far there have been no major injuries - Johnny Jolly's sprained ankle and Daryn Colledge's bruised thigh have been the most significant so far - so there's no indication the physical play is going to subside considerably.

Tuesday morning was a time to back off, as players were in shells and shorts for the first time in camp, and practice was shortened to about 90 minutes. It was conducted as a review of the first four practices of camp.

But after another 2 1/2-hour, full pads workout on Tuesday night, they'll come back from Wednesday's off day with two full-pad practices on Thursday.

"It makes the competition a little bit better," receiver Donald Driver. "You think about it, on Sundays, that's what we wear. We wear pads. We're not in shorts and T-shirts."

The linemen would concede that's easy for a receiver like Driver to say, because he's not putting his body through quite the same grind as the guys in the trenches.

But they understand it's part of the deal, and it's not going to change until the team gets into the routine of preparing for games. Between now and the first preseason contest on Aug. 15, eight of the nine practices (including the Family Night scrimmage) are scheduled for full pads, though it's possible there could be last-minute changes. There are two more off days on Aug. 9 and Aug. 12, plus a jog-through practice the day before the game as well.

Once the preseason games start, there's at least one shells practice per week with an off day following each game, so there is a reprieve on the horizon.

"It's just the beating on your body," said Pickett, who got the Tuesday morning practice off. "We run so many plays, it's like playing back-to-back games. In practice, coach's schedule is set up so we run just about as many plays in practice as we do in a game. It's hard on your body."

It's all intended for the long-term benefit of the team, though. Whether it's finding the best players to fill the roster or conditioning the team to be stronger in the fourth quarter after so many close losses a year ago, everything has a reason.

"We've gotten after each other so far," converted linebacker Aaron Kampman said. "Early on, yeah, we've been hitting, but I think it's a good thing for us."

Coming along

Learning Dom Capers' 3-4 defense remains a work in progress, but for the most part the players feel they're picking it up quickly and continue to improve with each passing day.

One player not learning anything new is backup safety Anthony Smith, a free-agent signee from Pittsburgh, where he played in a similar 3-4 for the past three years. Smith's assessment is that the defense is very much on track for the first full week of camp.

{sportsad300}"I'd say we're about 85 percent, because everyone understands the concepts," Smith said. "But once they understand what they're really doing in the defense, when and why you can do things, that's when it's really going to all start rolling, and you'll really see a big difference."

The difference Smith is talking about is the potential for causing turnovers with the surprise elements to the scheme and the trouble offenses can have adjusting at the last possible second.

"When things really start get rolling and guys really start understanding what's going on, they'll understand the pressure (the defense) brings and the amount of chaos it causes for the quarterbacks and not only them, but the running backs and the linemen who have to make their reads on us," Smith said. "It's pretty confusing."

When the former Steelers safety was signed, it was thought he might play a mentoring role in helping many of the Packers adjust to the new scheme. But Smith said he hasn't actually done too much of that, because it hasn't been needed.

"Not really," he said. "We've got a lot of smart guys, so they're picking up on the defense pretty quick. Every now and then I might help somebody out, but for the most part, they're all learning on their own."

Injury/participation update

Previously injured players on the one-a-day schedule - center Scott Wells, tackle Chad Clifton, defensive end Cullen Jenkins and safety Atari Bigby - sat out the morning practice but returned to the field in the evening.

Linebackers Nick Barnett (knee) and Brad Jones (back), defensive back Jarrett Bush (abdominal), guard Daryn Colledge (thigh), running back Brandon Jackson (shoulder), and defensive linemen Jolly (ankle) and B.J. Raji (unsigned) did not practice at all on Tuesday.

Cornerback Brandon Underwood (back) sat out in the morning but returned for the evening practice. Center/guard Duke Preston's back locked up and he came out of the morning practice briefly before returning, but he did not practice in the evening. Wide receiver Patrick Williams (hamstring) also did not practice in the evening.

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