Packers coach Mike McCarthy is giving his team more time off in August than ever before as a reward of sorts for more commitment by his players to the team's off-season workout program, and better attendance at the voluntary Organized Team Activities practices. The off-season workout program began March 19 and continues till the end of this month. For the most part, McCarthy's players have come through this off-season and have participated in the workout program. In return, and in an unprecedented move among NFL teams, McCarthy is scratching the first three Wednesday practices from the schedule.
This is all an attempt by the coach to help keep his troops fresh at the start of the season, and at the end as well. Last year, the Packers stumbled to a 1-4 start and had to rally to finish 8-8. To his credit, McCarthy, who says he is much more comfortable at the helm this season than last, has tweaked the training camp schedule in favor of the players. Of course, nobody in the locker room is complaining.
"I like this schedule, trust me," said Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. "This schedule is way better than last year's schedule. We get more rest time, and we get Wednesdays off, so I'm going to have an opportunity to go to church, and get spiritually fed."
Stronger bodies and souls in August could amount to much better production in September and December. Four of Green Bay's first five games are against teams that made the playoffs last season. The Packers have home games against Oakland and Detroit in December sandwiched around away games at St. Louis and Chicago.
"We need to start fast. It's been a problem here of late, particularly last year," McCarthy said. "Starting fast is very important, and we'll be fresh coming out of training camp especially with us playing at Tennessee on a Thursday night, so no excuses."
The downside to having fewer practices in training camp means less reps (about 100, according to McCarthy) to spread around. For a young team like Green Bay, it may be a gamble on the coach's part to skip a few practices, but McCarthy feels he has a good pulse on the team. He took notes after each training camp practice last year. After discussing it with the staff, McCarthy felt that a scaled-back training camp combined with more participation in the off-season workout program is the way to go.
"I had the time to talk to different people about the training of the football team, and we addressed some of that with our strength and conditioning program as far as we're doing more movement drills and core training, things like that," McCarthy said. "It's interesting when you talk to people in that field, they talk about rest and recovery all day; you hear so much about rest and recovery. It's the anti for coaches because you're always trying to do more. When you see the importance of rest and recovery happen on an individual basis like I've watched it throughout the spring, it's obviously very important for our football team. It's really clearly for that reason, about rest and recovery. To do it on Wednesday, right in the middle of the workload, I think is smart, and we're still able to get everything done."
Overall, McCarthy says that he and his staff are "a lot further ahead than we were at this time last year." So, knowing that there is a good chance that he could get more from his players with less practices, the move has all the potential to pay dividends in the form of more victories.
"It's going to really help our legs and our preparation," said quarterback Aaron Rodgers. "We worked really hard this summer, and to get more days off, especially a day after a game, or a day before the game, I think it's going to help us as far as being in the best physical shape for the (preseason) games. It will allow us to put forth our best effort."
McCarthy is clearly putting little emphasis on the final two weeks of training camp. Following Green Bay's second preseason game against Seattle at Lambeau Field, the Packers have a total of five practices in between their final two preseason games against Jacksonville and at Tennessee. With the final cutdown set for Sept. 1, the Packers won't return to practice to prepare for the opener against the Philadelphia Eagles until Sept. 3.
A better start for the Packers this season is critical, so McCarthy's new training camp formula is worth a try.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.