Some of the many veterans not at the first of 14 scheduled practices between now and June 21 may return for a few "voluntary" practices here and there, when convenient. But the big question is, why can't they take part in all of them, or at least most of them?
Under guidelines set by the National Football League Players Union, players are not required to attend a team's Organized Team Activities, another way of saying practices. So, many veterans opt to come up with reasons to skip the practices rather than attend, and not get penalized by the team.
McCarthy is making every attempt to turn the Packers into a contender. He is demanding more from his players than Mike Sherman and company did in previous seasons. It's part of the plan to improve and bounce back out of the cellar of the NFC North Division. Still, not all of the veterans, many of whom are fairly secure in their jobs, are buying into it. That's disheartening for fans, and it's got to be disappointing to McCarthy.
McCarthy said today that he "doesn't anticipate it being a problem" with players like Harris, who might be skipping the practices to display his displeasure with his current contract. But the coach also went on to stress the importance of participating in the team's off-season conditioning program and how he has been impressed with those who have followed through with it.
"Once again, we're in the process of changing a culture as far as how off-seasons have gone here in the past," McCarthy said. "We've asked, probably on a 2-to-1 ratio, the amount of work that's been done in the past from our players and we're working through that. Personally I'll never be pleased until we have 100 percent participation."
McCarthy has his work cut out for him. Fortunately, veterans like Brett Favre, Aaron Kampman, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Ahman Green and William Henderson are taking part in practices. They're leading by example in front of the younger players who are scrapping to get a job in the NFL. Those veterans have a pretty good idea of what it takes to win in the NFL.
When the Packers were contending for Super Bowl titles in the mid-1990s, nearly the entire team attended the "voluntary" June mini-camps. There was a lot to play for and the veterans were excited about the upcoming season, so they made sure to be in Green Bay for a few weeks in June. As a result of the extra work in late spring, the Packers thrived in the fall. If the Packers are going to improve from their most disappointing season in years, it should almost be mandatory for veterans to attend practices in the next few weeks. Do they really have better things to do? Are they so good that they don't need the practice? Are the veterans who choose to skip practices ever going to find a better job than playing in the NFL? Why not work on perfecting your skills?
Favre gets it. Henderson gets it. Is it any coincidence that both of those veterans have played as long as they have in the NFL and have a Super Bowl ring?
"This is a performance-based business, as coaches will quickly say," said Henderson. "Those who don't want to perform are giving themselves a chance to get out of here faster. This is the NFL – Not For Long – so right now I'm trying to give myself every opportunity to be here for as long as I possibly can."
McCarthy said that some veterans absent at practice today are expected to join the team Thursday or next week. Let's hope they stay for a while. Let's hope they buy into his message that practice makes perfect and ultimately translates into victories.
"The outcome can be nothing but positive," Henderson said. "He's not asking the world of the guys. Green Bay isn't the worst place to live for the majority of the year. For the young guys coming in and have heard the horror stories from the veterans players who have been here in the past about playing in Green Bay and the small town and there's nothing to do … they should know that there's a little more to do in Green Bay and the northeastern part of Wisconsin than people will speculate. You're not too far removed from the world. You can come here and have a good time and get better as a team. The ultimate goal is to win, and when you win the world is your worst enemy."
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.