Packer Report Classic: Lindy Infante's first camp

Editor's note: Packer Report has covered the Green Bay Packers for more than 30 years. Each week on, we will dive into the archives and feature a story that was published in Packer Report. This week, we go back to the summer of 1988, Lindy Infante's first season as head coach of the Packers in a feature on training camp as it got under way in Green Bay. The story was written by former managing editor Al Pahl and appeared in the Aug. 1, 1988 issue (Vol. 16, No. 1):

"We're not going to run any boot camp here, but at the same time, this isn't summer camp for little kids."

In his first year at the Packer helm, Lindy Infante says he is charting his course for training camp somewhere in between.

The staff he has assembled, including the recent addition of Joe Clark to serve as general offensive assistant, is not "a scream and holler group," Infante maintained. "I think you'll find they are a bunch of good teachers out there. Guys that will instruct and lead and hopefully teach the things they know to the players to the point the players can take it to the field and play with it.

"We're definitely going to maintain our aggressiveness; this is going to be a very competitive, aggressive camp, but I hope it is perceived as a teaching camp."

No Nutcracker, grass drills
One major departure from recent camps, indeed, from most camps, is the absence of that legendary football drill: The Nutcracker. "Quite frankly, we're not doing The Nutcracker," Infante said. "I've had some disagreement with my coaches when we talked about it.

"To me, a nutcracker drill is totally unrealistic to the game of football. You put two guys into a stance they don't get into during a game and you ask them to run into each other as hard as they can and you ask the running back to take the ball and run between two bags.

"Every place I've ever been, we did it. Now that I'm the head coach, we're not going to do it," Infante declared. "I would rather take that hour you spend running the Nutcracker and be over running something the guys are going to do when they play."

There are simply too many other items on the new coach's agenda. "We've got too much to do," he emphasized. "We've only got so many practices and we just have to utilize every one of them we have. I felt like a practice is better than a Nutcracker."

Infante did not get arguments from his staff when he said he wanted to do away with grass drills, also known as up-downs. It turns out Virgil Knight, strength and conditioning, had tried to persuade former Coach Forrest Gregg to discontinue them the past three years.

Knight told the Green Bay Press-Gazette, "It's an awful shock on the joints, especially for a 300-pound lineman. It was different with Forrest and Lombardi. Guys are a lot bigger now. And for quarterbacks, it's hard to turn around and throw the ball after doing 'em.

"I'm not for being soft on them, but I am for getting them ready when they have to play."

He said the major items on his camp agenda are evaluating personnel and making sure the players are taught well enough to put those lessons to work during games.

Quarterback is one of the few positions where camp opened with all the personnel to be evaluated already on the field. Although No. 1 pick Sterling Sharpe was the only draft choice unsigned when 72 rookies, free agents and selected veterans reported July 17, seven veteran free agents ¬– all of them 1987 starters – remained without a contract two days after they July 22 reporting date.

That made the new coach anxious, "Well, I am," he admitted. "But I've been in the business long enough to know I don't have any control over it. It's almost like spending the whole week worrying about whether it's going to rain during the game; you don't have any control over it.

"It's just unfortunate, but it's part of the business," he noted. "The approach I think the coach has to take is one of: We'll coach the guys who are here and do the best job we possibly can with the players we have, in order to win as many games as we can.

"Quite frankly, I haven't lost any sleep over that."

Holdouts troubling this year
The new coach said having numerous unsigned players could be particularly troublesome this year, because the first-year staff is installing new systems on both sides of the ball.

"Absolutely," Infante said. "I think that's a forgone conclusion. Especially in the first year of a system, it would be good to have everybody here because the longer these guys stay out, the less they are going to know about what we're doing. Had they been in the same system last year, then they can come in and fall back on what they learned the year before, but this is different."

Nonetheless, "The thing we can't let happen is: We can't let the players use that as leverage on us," Infante added. "I fully understand that. We can't let that be a factor in the negotiations. Tom (Braatz, executive vice president of football operations) has to do his job up in the front office and he's doing it rather well. I have to do the best job I can with the guys I've got to coach."

Coaching best part of job
Which is, after all, what Infante enjoys most about his job. "This is the part of it that is the most enjoyable for coaches," he said. "This is where the real nuts and bolts of it comes down.

"I'm excited about getting the chance to look through some helmets with facemasks on 'em and see guys sweat and see guys hit and throw and catch and do the things I feel I was paid to come here and teach."

This year, teaching will take precedence over, for instance, scrimmaging. "We're not going to scrimmage ourselves often," Infante said. "You run too big a risk of hurting your own people; when you're scrimmaging yourself, you've got 22 potential injuries out there, as opposed to 11.

"We'll set up little scrimmage-type situations from time to time to maintain our aggressiveness. The tempo of practice will be crisp. It will be short of scrimmage; it won't be tackling, but there will be a lot of collisions. We'll set it up so that the rhythm and tempo of what we're doing is very close to what a game situation would be like."

Infante decided against a lot of scrimmaging because "you've got to focus on the bottom line: Winning the regular-season games, not the preseason games and not winning a scrimmage. When we play the Rams, that's when things start to go into (won-loss) columns.

"These other (preseason) games may scare people away or they may excite people," the new coach said. "I don't know, but we're not going to lose focus on what we're trying to get done: Evaluate and when we line up against the Rams, have the best 11 on offense, defense and special teams on the field.

"That's what it's all about. That's what camp's all about in my opinion."

No unusual butterflies
When asked about butterflies in his first camp at an NFL helm, Infante laughed, "I don't like pets and animals too much," he chuckled. "I don't keep those kind of things."

In a more serious tone, he offered, "I don't feel any different than I usually do. I'm one of those guys that's very apprehensive about going into training camp, regardless of what position I've held. I don't feel any different pressure now than I felt in Cleveland going into last season when everybody expected us to do rather well down there.

"I don't feel any different, really," Infante maintained. "Obviously, there is more of a burden and there's a lot more responsibility, but I don't think the feeling is any different. I'm one of those guys that gets very nervous before a ballgame and then once the ball is kicked off, everything is fine. And the same things happen every season; I always sit around wondering what's going to happen. But as soon as you have the first meeting and you have the first practice, by then, you're so doggone busy, you won't have time to worry about anything else but what's up the next minute and the next hour."

And that's the point Infante is at. He has not found himself worrying about how between 110 and 115 players will fit together and eventually be culled to 47 for the Packers' 68th NFL season, which opens against the L.A. Rams, here, Sept. 4.

"That's another thing you try not to worry about because it's wasted energy," he said. "You just go day to day and keep pluggin' towards that goal of having it all put together and functioning well; you handle things day to day as they come and you don't try to sit around and wonder about it because nobody right now can predict what kind of football team we are going to be."

Editor's note: The Packers finished 4-12 in 1988, fifth in the NFC Central Division.

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