The team has put a major emphasis on improving the running game. It started with the decision to flip-flop the offensive line, with Bryan Bulaga being a major upgrade over Marshall Newhouse from a run-blocking perspective at left tackle and putting powerful Don Barclay in position to start at right tackle.
And it's gone right through training camp, with an increased time investment in making the running game more than just something to give Aaron Rodgers' right arm a break.
"We came in and it really started with the first day of the offseason," guard T.J. Lang said. "We talked about making the run a real big emphasis this year. As offensive linemen, you love to hear that. Any time we can be a balanced attack, it definitely benefits us up front. We know we're the engine that makes that thing go. If we're not blocking well enough, we're not going to get those runs called. We have to make sure we're taking advantage of every opportunity we get to run the ball and show Coach that we really want to run the rock this year. We've spent a lot more time working on those fundamentals."
The big part of the increased emphasis – the "big letters," if you will – is the "combo" or half-line drills. They've been a staple of training camp. On one side of the field, it's the left tackle, left guard, center and right guard, a fullback or tight end and a running back running against five defenders. On the other side of the field, it's the right tackle, right guard, center and left guard forming the offensive line.
"That drill is all attitude," Lang said. "The defense knows we're running. We know we're running."
"That plus when we do our team run drills, I think that period is the longest team period we have," Lang continued. "You can definitely tell that the addition of that combo drill and the additional plays we get in the team run lets us all know that we're really focusing in on the run game and making sure it's effective for us."
Offensive line coach James Campen likes what he's seen from that drill in developing an attitude.
"I would just say that both sides are treating that with a lot more vigor and energy and importance," Campen said. "We want to be a good running team and that's a great drill to get the fits and all of that and to create the energy. Defensively, they're trying to get in our face, too. That's been a very good drill."
The emphasis on the run game is logical considering the Packers' troubles the last three seasons. They averaged 3.9 yards per carry in 2012, 3.9 in 2011 and 3.8 in 2010, ranking 22nd, 26th and 25th, respectively. Campen believes the Packers will be a more effective rushing team because that's been the team's trend under coach Mike McCarthy. From reducing penalties early in his tenure to improving tackling last season, McCarthy has been the ultimate problem solver.
"Whenever Coach McCarthy has emphasized something, the results come through," Campen said. "That has been clear-cut, Day 1, starting seven years ago. If there's been an issue, go back and it gets addressed and things improve. I would see no reason why it would not improve."
The potential is there because the Packers have run the ball well at times. During a three-game stretch last season against the Giants, Vikings and Lions, the Packers averaged 4.5, 4.2 and 5.6 yards per carry, respectively.
"You know, there were times last year when we had clinic film, when we were doing everything just right," Lang said, "and there were times when we were getting pushed back and allowing too much penetration. I think we're making it more important this year by spending the extra time in individual drills and the fundamental periods and those combo drills to make sure that we're making the run an emphasis around here. It's no longer just a change-up. Us up front, we know it starts with us."
All of the blame for the subpar running game doesn't fall on the offensive line. By averaging 4.6 yards per carry during his four games to end the regular season, DuJuan Harris showed that the running game could be more than just 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Nonetheless, the line knows it starts with up front and it's heard the talk that it's the weak link on a powerhouse offense.
"You can't look at that and say that that's not our fault," center Evan Dietrich-Smith said. "I think everyone's at fault but we take pride in what we do. To sit there and hear people say that, that's not something we want. We care about what we do. We don't want to be viewed as the weak point. We want to show our team that we're a group that can be relied on."
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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.