What's the Point of Football in Underwear?

Other than installing the playbook — an obviously vital task — what can be learned during these spring workouts? Several of the Packers' position coaches share their thoughts on what they're looking for during the noncontact practices.

At the advice of his mother, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has refrained from saying his players are practicing in "underwear" during these offseason practices.

Call it underwear. Call it shorts. Call it whatever you want, but this isn't really football.

"There won't be any jobs won in June," McCarthy said last week.

So, other than installing the playbook — an obviously vital task — what can be learned during these spring workouts?

It depends on who you talk to.

For a receiver or cornerback, the feedback during the competitive sessions can be important. Can the receiver beat the cornerback and make the catch? Can the cornerback prevent that receiver from getting open?

The more physical the position, the less the competitive portions of practice mean.

Nobody said that better than linebackers coach Winston Moss, when asked if any true player evaluation can be made during these noncontact practices.

"You're asking to come to a conclusion in a setting that doesn't require it," Moss said. "All you're asking is a guy to get the principles and the assignments and the techniques down so he has an opportunity to compete for a job in training camp when the pads get on and the preseason in a live evaluation. Other than that, your question is out of context about trying to come to some kind of conclusion in OTAs or a minicamp type of setting."

For the line coaches — Mike Trgovac on defense and James Campen on offense — this time of year is all about teaching. In the rough-and-tumble battles in the trenches, it's hard to beat the man in front of you if you're thinking about the play that's been called and the technique necessary to execute that play.

"When you're teaching, you always have to teach from the bottom of the room and build it up," Trgovac said. "Now, at some point, you can't have those guys holding you back because you want to keep going forward with them. That's what's nice about having the IPWs and then the OTAs and then the minicamp — you get three different stages to do that in. Now, if a young cat's not getting it, we've got to push forward. We've got a championship to shoot for."

It's a slightly different story at tight end. Rookie tight end Richard Rodgers, for instance, has impressed the coaches and quarterback Aaron Rodgers with his pass-catching ability. Catching passes, however, is only half of the job. The other half is run blocking and pass protection — two things that can't truly be drilled until the pads go on late next month.

"A lot of it is just footwork and a lot of it is fundamentals and applying adjustments on the go," tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. "We do so many adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and Aaron is very demanding of his players in that regard because he can handle a lot (so) the guys around him have to be able to handle a lot. If you can't, then it shows up right now. That's one definitive thing that we can process right now as far as evaluating. Aside from that, it's just conditioning and how much can a guy handle with no pads on. We are an up-tempo team. We find out where guys are physically from that standpoint. Run blocking, it's kind of hard to tell until we get the pads on, but route-running and pass catching, we definitely get a good feel on that right now."

Similarly, a safety's coverage skills and communication ability can be revealed in May and June. However, pass coverage is only part of the job requirements of a safety. Can he tackle a receiver in the open field? Can he defeat a hard-charging fullback's block or, at the very least, force the play back inside? Can he come into the box and tackle like a linebacker?

"You get to see the guys move, you see footwork, you see athletic ability," said safeties coach Darren Perry, who must get first-round pick HaHa Clinton-Dix up to speed. "It's more of a teaching mode but there are certain techniques that you can really stress during this time period. There's a lot to be gained but, at the same time, the physicality part of it, you've just got to wait and see. And that's a huge factor in determining who's going to play and what role they're going to have."

For receivers coach Edgar Bennett, it's sort of like the old Yogi Berra adage about baseball — it's 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.

"For the most part, it's a classroom environment so it's how quickly they can pick up the system," Bennett said. "That's a very, very important part of it, obviously. And then the next part, you get an opportunity to see how they function in different roles. (You want to) see guys going through the techniques that we teach here and how quickly they adapt and be able to allow their natural ability to take over. So, when they get to that stage where they're confident and they understand what we're asking them to do, then you see the natural talent start to come out."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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