A year ago, McCarthy and his staff were new, eager, and ready to roll. They brought a new weight training program and came out of the gate strong during their first training camp. In many ways, returning players went through their most grueling training camp in years.
When the team faltered late in the preseason, however, and poor performance continued into the beginning of the regular season, the new coach's program seemed unfit for success.
So to McCarthy's credit, he made changes, starting in the off-season. The heavy weight training and conditioning portion of the preparation was moved up to spring. Player participation in the off-season workout program increased and positive vibes from a four-game winning streak to end the 2006 season continued.
McCarthy also changed the training camp practice schedule. Most notably, players have been receiving a non-traveling day off (Wednesday), and practices have been dialed down a notch. Full scrimmaging has not been a regular part of the process.
Following this Saturday night's game against the Seahawks, the Packers have only five training camp practices remaining (no two-a-days) over the next 15 days (with two game dates mixed in). They then will begin to prepare for the Eagles the week of Sept. 3.
Much of the change with the practice schedule is aimed at keeping the team fresher and getting it off to a better start … and getting more out of practice like on Tuesday night.
"I thought we had a heck of a practice tonight. We were actually 16 minutes ahead of schedule, so we were flying," said McCarthy. "That's what you're looking for because the tempo, that's really part of our conditioning, plus that's the way we like to play on offense. Seattle does the same thing, so we're trying to give the same look to our defense."
When asked about the pros and cons of his altered practice schedule, McCarthy chose not to elaborate too much, especially on the cons. He only surmised, "I think the Wednesday, coming right in the middle of the week, guys are starting to tighten up. Talking to Brett (Favre), I know Brett could use a day off just for his hamstrings after a couple of days of work. So I think it's worked out great."
Being fresher does not guarantee playing better though. The Packers again field a young team and must make tough decisions on roster spots. They need to find out who the best football players are. With limited practice time and hardly any full-contact scrimmaging, it is somewhat of a guessing game. Four preseason games and a Lambeau Field scrimmage can only tell so much.
What is more telling is the way the Packers played in the first half of their preseason opener against the Steelers. They missed several tackles early and safety Atari Bigby's attempt to take down wide receiver Walter Young on a 41-yard touchdown catch over the middle was pathetic. What ever happened to trying to wrap up a guy properly? Bigby's technique would suggest he was trying to force Young to the sideline.
For a coach that stresses fundamentals, McCarthy does not focus much on tackling techniques during practice. Preaching it and using a stationary tackling dummy is one thing, but going "live" with it is another. More emphasis on full-contact tackling would not only help identify better players in practice, but it also would translate to better performance on game day.
Certainly there should be limits to what is done in practice. It does not serve the Packers well to expose a leaping receiver to a darting safety down the middle of the field. Sparing a serious collision in a situation like that is totally understandable, but having a defensive player and a running back or even a wide receiver go one-on-one in a drill would be nice to see on occasion. After all, this is football, not track and field!
As for limiting injuries, McCarthy's dialed-down daily routine has not helped much. Injuries to tight end Tory Humphrey (season-ending), wide receiver Greg Jennings, fullback Brandon Miree, and running back Vernand Morency have slowed the Packers' offense immensely. Favre even expressed concern at a Tuesday press conference about establishing chemistry with his mates on offense. With limited practice time before the season begins, such issues are mounting.
The Packers have started 1-4, 0-4, and 1-4 over the past three years. They are due for a better start this year even with a tough schedule to begin the season. Should they get it, McCarthy might be on to something. Should they stumble again, questions will be raised.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at email@example.com.