With the Packers having released veterans Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar and having elected not to re-sign unrestricted free agent Matt Wilhelm, the No. 1 backup at inside linebacker on Sept. 8 might not be on the roster when the first practice of training camp begins on Saturday night.
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The depth at the position was one of the many things addressed that coach Mike McCarthy addressed during his camp-opening news conference on Saturday morning — 11 hours ahead of the first practice under the lights of Ray Nitschke Field.
"That's a fair question," McCarthy said when asked about the depth inside. "The days ahead will answer your question."
McCarthy said there are 84 players on the roster, leaving room for six additions on the 90-man training camp roster.
"I'll say this," McCarthy said. "Russ Ball hasn't left his office. There's a lot of conversation that will continue. There's a lot of activity still going on."
Barring a last-minute addition and a quick flight to Green Bay, the Packers will open camp tonight with Bishop and Hawk as the starters. The reserves aren't exactly grizzled veterans: sixth-round pick D.J. Smith, practice squad player Cardia Jackson and undrafted rookie Elijah Joseph. McCarthy mentioned holdovers Robert Francois and Brad Jones as possibilities to be inside-outside guys. Earlier in the week, a source told Packer Report that Jones would compete to start outside and wouldn't be an option inside, so that shows the fluidity of the situation.
Questionable for tonight
McCarthy listed six players who are iffy for tonight: tight end Jermichael Finley, safety Morgan Burnett, defensive end, Joseph, tight end Andrew Quarless and outside linebacker Diyral Briggs. McCarthy said he'd go "slow" with Finley, Burnett and Neal, all of whom are expected to play huge roles on the team.
Less is more
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams are limited to one full-go, padded practice per day. Add in the practice constraints with the work that was missed during the lockout, and McCarthy — and every coach in the NFL — has a major challenge on his hands to get ready for the season.
To that end, the team will hold a walk-through practice in the gym every morning to correct the mistakes made on the practice field the previous night.
Last year, there were seven days of two-a-day practices. McCarthy is happy that they've been eliminated and replaced with more learning opportunities and an increased focus on eliminating fatigue-based injuries such as strained hamstrings.
"Some people may look at it from the other side and see less practice, it looks like there's a softness," McCarthy said. "The challenge is to get the 100 mph practice, day in and day out, that prepares your team for football games. One-a-day schedules, frankly, is the schedule we've been working on as a staff for the last couple of years. What's going on with the CBA really had no affect on this training camp practice structure."
Between the on-field and indoor reps, McCarthy expects the total snaps to be close to the "little bit north of 1,000 reps" of past training camps.
In good shape
On Friday, McCarthy put his players through a conditioning test. He sounded generally happy with the results but said four or five days of his full-throttle approach to training camp will provide the ultimate answer to how well his players took care of themselves during the lockout.
"Just like in the past, we do not do conditioning drills as a football team," he said. "Our conditioning is part of the way we practice. I don't anticipate us hitting the times that we have in the past. We're normally what I refer to as a ‘plus practice team.' If we have a 2-hour, 15-minute scheduled practice, we usually come in in 2:10 or less."
— McCarthy, on the players' decision not to hold informal practices: "I was very comfortable with the decision the players made throughout the offseason. I understand our business is about keeping score. We keep scoring in everything, I get that. That was a score that maybe we were perceived as we were losing. But I was comfortable with the way our players went about it. It was more so just based on the length of our season. I spend a big part of my job on risk assessment and you talk about environments, practice environments, what you're trying to accomplish and so forth. I'm sure there are teams that thought it was very productive and that's great. But based on the length of our season and where we were coming out of that season, I was fine with the way we went about it."
— McCarthy, on releasing veterans like Barnett, Chillar and Mark Tauscher: "That's the hardest part of the business. With my personal situation (his daughter was born on Thursday), I didn't get to say goodbye to those guys in person so I didn't feel good about that. I don't think anybody really liked the way it came down. We really didn't get to appropriately acknowledge the way we would have liked to remember those guys. It's a part of our business. The guys that played a lot of football here are excellent representatives of the Green Bay Packers."
— McCarthy, on whether winning the Super Bowl has changed his life: "I think it's changed my life as far as the way people see you and interact towards myself. It hasn't changed me as far as a coach."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.