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Work Begins For 2010 With Offseason Program

It’s time to get back to work. Players returned to Lambeau Field on Monday for the start of the offseason program, which begins with a dedicated period of strength and conditioning workouts and concludes in late June with the three-day, full-squad mini-camp. Here’s a breakdown of some of the changes and focal points for the 2010 offseason program.


It's time to get back to work.

Players returned to Lambeau Field on Monday for the start of the offseason program, which begins with a dedicated period of strength and conditioning workouts and concludes in late June with the three-day, full-squad mini-camp.

Here's a breakdown of some of the changes and focal points for the offseason program in 2010.

New schedule, new wall

The offseason schedule is broken up more than in past years, giving the players a full week off at two different junctures.

The first phase of the program is a five-week block of strength and conditioning work, in both the team's weight room and the Don Hutson Center, with players training four days per week. Then they'll take one week off before returning for another four-week stretch.

The last of those four weeks will be the first week of organized team activities (OTAs) before another week off. Then the final four-week block will feature three weeks of OTAs followed by the mini-camp.

"We just felt that we had some signs of overtraining last year -- we went nine straight weeks, and those are things you have to be cautious of," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "The more and more you talk to the doctors and the experts in the industry, the emphasis on rest and recovery needs to be apparent in all your training programs, whether it's offseason program, training camp, in-season. We feel like this new schedule that we're doing a better job.

"We've always tried to improve every year just like any other part of our program."

That includes within the weight room itself. New strength and conditioning coordinator Mark Lovat had a large cinder-block wall, measuring 10 feet high by 30 feet wide, added in the back of the weight room with anchors and other pulley junctions installed.

Lovat said the wall will be used for multiple stations of medicine ball drills as well as bungee- and band-work, with some other larger equipment also available for the players in the Hutson Center, where they will train on the final day of each week.

"There are some different apparatus down there that you can't use in the weight room," Lovat said. "We'll do sled work, a lot of competitive drills, tire flips, heavy rope training, that kind of stuff.

"Dave Redding and myself are all about 'train like you play, train on your feet.' That's our whole idea. Whatever we do, wherever it takes place is going to have that as its driving force."

Not rookies anymore

It's a common theme that professional football players make their biggest leap from their first year to their second, often because they go through an NFL offseason program for the first time.

"There's a huge window for individual improvement for that second-year player," McCarthy said. "I've seen it time and time again -- seen it in developing quarterbacks and I've seen it now developing a football team.

"Frankly it's something that I use to gauge players on their future here as a Green Bay Packer. If someone doesn't take a huge jump from Year 1 to 2, there's an indicator there that you need to take a close look at."

That window for individual improvement applies to virtually all former rookies, from first-round draft picks like B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews to seventh-rounders like Brad Jones and free agents like Evan Dietrich-Smith.

The Packers got significant contributions from their 2009 rookie class, headed by Matthews, who made the Pro Bowl. But Raji and Jones are seen as major factors on defense, if not potential starters, while cornerback Brandon Underwood and end Jarius Wynn, both sixth-round picks, will be fighting for time in the nickel or dime packages.

On offense, offensive lineman T.J. Lang (fourth round) and fullback Quinn Johnson (fifth round) both saw their share of snaps as rookies and will be competing for more playing time or potentially starting as well.

NFL coaches view the second year as so critical because of the fast-paced, no-time-for-rest whirlwind that nearly every rookie season becomes. From the time players finish their final collegiate season, they begin preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine, then they prepare for the draft, then they come to their NFL team in May and get thrown into competitive OTAs when they're just learning the playbook, and shortly thereafter the challenges of training camp and a 16-game regular season - at least three or four games longer than most college seasons - hit them.

By the time it's all over, they've had little or no break from the physical and mental grind for around 18 months. But then they can take a solid 2-2½ months off to finally rest and recover and then begin training their body for the rigors of the NFL, knowing what they're getting into.

"What they've gone through from their senior year through their first year, it's demanding," McCarthy said. "But now, it's a chance to go back from zero and learn it all over again, make sure your foundation is intact, and the individual improvement needs to take a big jump going into that second year. Because now they understand the speed of the game, they understand the demands of the profession, the responsibilities Monday through Saturday which are more demanding frankly than Sundays.

"They have a lot of understanding, so there should be a lot of stress removed from their daily life on how to excel as a professional football player. It's so important for those guys to take advantage of March, April, May and June. It's critical. Those are four big months."

Team-building, and starting anew

The offseason program is mostly focused on individual gains, but one overlooked aspect is the role the four months of training plays in team-building and team chemistry. Players are limited by league rules as far as how many hours per day or week they can spend at the team facility, but there's an element of pushing one another to make the most of that time.

{sportsad300}"The aspect of group dynamics -- the ability to foster, develop and expand on leadership is an important part of the offseason program," McCarthy said. "That's why our attendance being so high the last three years has been very important to us developing and growing as a football team."

The offseason program is also the time players, often through one-on-one time with their position coaches, fully process everything that happened the prior year, individually and team-wise, and develop the resolve to not let the negatives repeat themselves.

Last year at this time, the Packers all talked about washing away the taste of the 6-10 season in 2008, knowing they were a better team than their record showed. They proved that in 2009, going 11-5 and making the playoffs, but the bitterness of that NFC Wild Card defeat still lingers as a motivator and learning tool.

McCarthy has spoken since the season ended about the team not playing to its identity with the season on the line. Namely, the offense with the fewest giveaways in the league turned the ball over on two of its first three snaps, and the defense that led the league in takeaways and was No. 2 in yards allowed got only one turnover and gave up more than 500 yards.

"That's the disappointment," McCarthy said. "I'm not trying to take anything away from Arizona's performance. But we didn't play to our identity defensively, and offensively at the beginning of the game. That's the part we'll spend a lot of time on and make sure, ... because we weren't trying to be anybody else. We wanted to go out and be ourselves. We had formed an identity the way we played the game, and the most important game of the year, we did not accomplish that."

Rest assured the players will re-visit all of that, amongst themselves and with their coaches, over the next few months. That process, in the midst of a lot of old-fashioned sweat in the weight room, plays into teams growing closer together and locker-room leaders emerging as well.

"It's the dynamics that you can't teach, you can't buy," McCarthy said. "It's something that has to be re-created every year, because to me it's something that doesn't totally carry over year-to-year.

"When you go through those types of training regimens together, the hours of personal time you share together, that counts for something. It's an investment into the locker room, and we try to make that locker room as strong as possible, because we definitely feel it helps our performance on Sundays."

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