Adapting to the speed of the game and playbooks takes time for young players. Adjusting to their own players and opponents takes time for new coaching staffs. Aside from the brand new rookies, Mike McCarthy and his staff and team seem to be well-adjusted to one another this off-season. And that should carry over into the regular season.
When McCarthy and his coaching staff took over the Green Bay Packers in January of 2006, the existing veterans on the team had to get used to McCarthy's way of preparing for a season. McCarthy tweaked the team's off-season program and schedules, as well as the training camp schedule of practices. The agenda was different from Mike Sherman and his staff, but that's the way it goes when a new coach steps in to lead a team.
It is probably no coincidence that the team's 1-4 start last year was a reflection of its off-season preparation. McCarthy was instituting his program, which required more instruction by his assistant coaches, and that probably took away from focusing on perfecting plays.
Year two has been going much easier, according to McCarthy. Thanks in part to an off-season workout program that has had 75 players working out at Lambeau Field and hanging around Green Bay since March 19, it is safe to say that this off-season has been more productive for the Packers.
"When we stood here at this time last year, everything that we introduced to them was different than what the veterans had gone through in the past," said McCarthy. "Now we're over that hurdle, so the expectations, and what's asked of them and everything is a combination of all those things."
In a wise move, McCarthy gave the rookies and first-year players a running start heading into this weekend's minicamp by initiating a Rookie Orientation Camp a few weeks ago. When the younger players mixed with the veterans this weekend, practices moved along without assistant coaches having to stop to explain the object of various drills to some wide-eyed rookie.
"Just watching the pace of practice, finishing four, five, six minutes early every day is a reflection of the tempo, the understanding that you're not stopping for corrections," McCarthy said at the conclusion of the team's mandatory minicamp on Sunday. "I feel good about the amount of work that we were able to accomplish this weekend, but importantly the tempo in the way they practiced."
McCarthy said that the team learned the foundation of plays on offense, defense and special teams over the weekend. When players return for the voluntary Organized Team Activities practices after Memorial Day, they will go over everything they learned to date again.
Providing the Packers can get as many veterans as possible to the OTAs, the team should be able to polish plays and schemes in no pads practices in June in preparation for contact drills in late July and August.
Though the Packers have a challenging schedule to start the season, their preparation for this off-season is ahead of the pace of last year's team. Credit McCarthy and his staff for getting the most from his players in the off-season, and the players for buying into the system and working hard.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.