McCarthy seeks bigger impact from rookies

His offseason schedule gives his draft picks a better chance to taste first-year success.

It wasn't a great year for the Packers' 2007 rookie class.

It's generally not a good sign when the impact rookie is a kicker. Beyond Mason Crosby, only two rookies played regularly last season, with third-round receiver James Jones having a solid first half to his rookie season before fading and sixth-round fullback Korey Hall starting strong before fading in the second half.

Coach Mike McCarthy appears to be demanding more from his 2008 rookie class.

Much of his revised offseason program revolved around giving his rookies a chance to hit the ground running for the start of training camp. He brought the rookies in before the veterans to get their feet wet, then scheduled four weeks of organized team activities to teach them the playbook in a bit more of a relaxed setting. All of that leads to the three-day minicamp that starts Tuesday, then training camp on July 28.

"Just the progression," McCarthy said, "of having the rookie orientation, getting the rookies ready to go, bringing those guys back, putting them into an OTA format where they can come in and learn what is going to be done that day in practice. Have one practice and build up to a minicamp format where you have two practices in one day.

"I just think it makes more sense from a progression standpoint of teaching, and that's why we went to this new format."

McCarthy needs this new format to work, because even with a team coming off of a 13-3 season, the Packers need sudden impact out of this year's rookies.

Of their first five draft choices, four are being counted on to contribute this season, and the fifth, quarterback Brian Brohm, would have the biggest role of all if Aaron Rodgers were to miss an extended period.

Their first pick in the second round, Jordy Nelson, is one of the rookies who have benefitted from McCarthy's offseason schedule. It's hard to judge a whole lot without the pads being on, but he looks like a polished, athletic performer who could add to an already-dynamic receiving corps.

"As you continue to progress through the playbook," Nelson said, "and become more and more comfortable with the coaches and the players, your thought process starts to slow down and you become more relax. So, there's less thinking and more just playing football."

The Packers need someone to seize control of the nickel cornerback position, which is essentially a 12th defensive starter. That makes this a key time for second-rounder Patrick Lee. The Packers don't have a proven tight end behind Donald Lee. That makes this a key time for third-rounder Jermichael Finley. You can never have enough defensive linemen. So, this is a key time for defensive end Jeremy Thompson.

"You are always looking for that point where the rookies catch up to the veterans and the quality of your practice improves, and we are definitely at a higher rate compared to the last two years," McCarthy said.

As general manager Ted Thompson likes to say, the proof is in the pudding. This wouldn't be the first time, after all, when rookies showed promise in June but disappeared by September.

If the Packers are going to remain an elite team in this first year without Brett Favre, then this year's rookie class will need to take on a bigger role than last year's draft picks.

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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