For McCarthy, everything changes with Rodgers

Coach Mike McCarthy must adapt to life with Aaron Rodgers and without Brett Favre's wealth of experience. Retooling the offense and improving the run game while keeping team fresh in camp will be one of the biggest challenges,'s Steve Lawrence says.

Big changes are in store for Packers coach Mike McCarthy, and I'm not talking about him reportedly getting married over the weekend.

Welcome to life without Brett Favre.

McCarthy gave Favre rare freedom to direct the offense from the line of scrimmage. That took a lot of pressure off of McCarthy's play-calling, since he had a wise old pro who could audible out of a bad play — or even a decent play — and into a big gainer.

Obviously, Aaron Rodgers won't have that sort of freedom. Not with 59 career passing attempts and no career starts. Even if he earns a bit of a slackened leash at the line of scrimmage, it will take Rodgers years to accumulate the computer-like mind Favre possessed.

McCarthy took full advantage of his offense's strengths last season. With a suspect running game early in the season, he put the offense almost completely in Favre's hands by running a barrage of four-receiver sets. Even after Ryan Grant burst onto the scene as a 100-yard threat in practically every game, McCarthy continued to give Favre ownership of the offense.

Because of McCarthy's trust in Favre, the Packers dropped back to pass on 61.3 percent of their plays last season, the sixth-heaviest pass-to-run ratio in the NFL. That's a huge disparity for a team that didn't have to spend the second halves of their games chucking the ball around the yard because they were trailing.

Unless Rodgers is just lights out from Week 1, McCarthy can't possibly do that again next season and expect the Packers to finish 13-3. That makes this a huge offseason for McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.

Priority No. 1 will be building a solid running game to take the pressure off of Rodgers. To accomplish that, the interior of the offensive line — Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz and Scott Wells, or perhaps Allen Barbre or some rookie — needs to make big strides. While Grant ran wild during the second half of the season, a lot of those yards came out of passing formations, when the holes were there as much by formation as the work of the offensive line. It's hard to imagine the Packers can get away with that if Rodgers is merely a dump-it-off quarterback.

The one area where Rodgers is superior to Favre is his athleticism, so look for a lot of rollouts and bootlegs to take advantage of that. But, those things are only effective if the defense has to worry about the running game.

A successful screen game would help, too. So would adding another playmaking tight end to pair with Donald Lee. You know, a return to the roots of the West Coast Offense.

Aside of retooling the offense, perhaps McCarthy's biggest challenge will be how he runs training camp. He won over his team last year by taking it easy on his players during camp. Gone were day after day of two-a-day practices. Gone were long sessions in the heat and humidity of a typical July day in Wisconsin. Gone were the dead legs that helped torpedo the Packers the previous few Septembers.

How can McCarthy ensure his players have fresh legs if he has to break in a new quarterback and assemble a reliable running game?

McCarthy came to Green Bay vowing to build a physical running game. He showed his flexibility — and put his ego aside — by turning Favre loose for the good of the team. McCarthy will have to show that flexibility again as a new era begins.

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

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