The Packers' entire off-season has been devoted to maintaining momentum built from their four-game winning streak to close the season. Off-season workouts have carried more purpose and McCarthy has restructured camp to ensure his players are fresh Sept. 9 against Philadelphia.
"I think we've probably got 15-20 guys, if you're allowed based on salary cap rules to hand out gifts based on what we've accomplished in the off-season, there would be plenty of them," said the coach in a 24-minute pre-training camp press conference at Lambeau Field. "I'm very pleased with the way we progressed in the off-season. I can't say enough about it.
"We have stressed the fast start. The way we structured our scheduling gives us I think the best opportunity to start fast, because we're getting our work done and we should be fresh coming out of camp and so forth."
McCarthy intensified minicamp and OTA practices this off-season to compensate for three free Wednesdays in training camp. After consulting with strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson, McCarthy is emphasizing ‘rest and recovery' much more in his second training camp. One off-day per week should go a long way.
"A lot of research has gone into this," McCarthy ensured. "I would not take a chance with my football team, particularly a young football team, if I wasn't confident. I've crunched all the numbers. The reps are very favorable.
"Actually, with the amount of work we got done in the spring, so we're really 150 team reps less than we were last year, excuse me, group and team reps. That really equates to about two practices, so I feel very confident these three days, that mid-week break, will really help our football team, particularly their legs, going through the toughest part of training camp which is always that first 17 days."
Arguably the biggest focal point at camp will be to establish a ground game. Quarterback Brett Favre has led the league in pass attempts the past two seasons, finishing with a career-low 56 completion percentage in 2006. Green Bay desperately need more balance. With Ahman Green departed to Houston via free agency, the pressure is on an unproven batch of backs to succeed.
McCarthy isn't sure whether he'll rely on one back or a committee but he's familiar with both styles.
"I've done it both ways," he said. "It doesn't bother me. You always have to have more than one guy. I've played with the feature back. That has worked. Also, my year in 2000 in New Orleans, my first year as a coordinator, we had lost Ricky Williams I think it was like Week 10, he broke his ankle. We had ‘Regular Sooner,' we had ‘Regular Trojan,' we were naming all the different personnel groups based on where the player played college. We had Chad Morton and a whole crew of guys. So I've done it both ways."
On an ‘unofficial' depth chart distributed to the media, a couple new starters stood out. Donald Lee was listed as the starting tight end and unsigned first round pick Justin Harrell was slotted as the starting defensive tackle next to Ryan Pickett. It's far too early to pencil in any starters, let along etch them in stone. But considering Harrell didn't take a single off-season snap in 11-on-11 drills due to a ruptured biceps tendon and that Corey Williams is coming off a career year (47 tackles, seven sacks), the decision was surprising.
McCarthy did note that a depth chart can be deceiving.
"If we were playing a game today, [Harrell] would probably run out there with the first base, based on potential," McCarthy said. "I think Corey would run out there with the first sub-group, things like that, same with the nickel. There's no starting 11, as you know, both on offense and defense. Frankly, I think it would help everybody if they designed the depth charts that way, have a sub and a base."
And tight end? Like last season, McCarthy will most likely utilize multiple tight ends. But unlike last year, there may be some new faces, especially if someone who has the ‘best hands' on the team continues to develop. No, Donald Driver won't be lining up in a three-point stance.
"I think Donald has had a very good off-season. Tory Humphrey has had an excellent off-season. Bubba Franks looks a lot better than I thought he did at this time last year. I thought he came back in the spring in very good shape. He feels a lot better about where he is physically. Zac Alcorn probably has the best hands on our football team. He needs to work on the other aspects of his play. So I think we have a very competitive group there."
Today the Packers underwent physicals, running tests, and meetings. The real fun starts tomorrow at 2 p.m. at Clarke Hinkle Field with the team in full pads.
Tyler Dunne is a student at Syracuse University. He is in Green Bay covering the Packers during training camp for PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.