Already, the Packers' three-practices-in-three-days schedule was short and sweet by NFL standards and even McCarthy's history.
Last year, McCarthy held one practice on Monday, two practices on Tuesday and a short jog-through practice on Wednesday. In 2008, McCarthy held four full minicamp practices over three days. In 2007, McCarthy ran the team through four minicamp practices in three days, though the camp was held in mid-May with organized team activities in June.
Around the league, holding four or five practices over three days is the norm. While there are exceptions — the Tennessee Titans didn't hold any mandatory practices for the veterans — McCarthy's approach is far lighter than most of his colleagues. In Chicago, the Bears held five practices in three days, in large part because of the offense learning Mike Martz's complicated system. The rebuilding Lions are in the midst of a three-days, five-practices minicamp. In Minnesota, the Vikings had four practices in three days. The Cardinals, Jets, Dolphins and Giants were among the teams holding five practices in three days. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, like McCarthy, cut this minicamp to two days and two practices, but as a new coach, he had the benefit of having an extra minicamp.
Minicamp used to be a big deal — and still is, for much of the NFL. But for the Packers, the minicamp practices looked a lot like the voluntary organized team activities, except that the minicamp had a larger focus on special teams and fundamentals with less time spent running plays.
"That's the way we've evolved here in Green Bay," McCarthy said this week. "That's really the illustration of the program we've built here. You used to have the minicamp historically where it was really the starting point of your offseason program. For us the last couple years, it's been the ending point. And it's a testament to the players, their commitment of being here since March 15 and just the amount of work we've been able to get done, which leads into training camp because it gives us the opportunity to have a smart, tough, healthy training camp environment."
Aside from contract situations, the Packers had perfect attendance at their four weeks of organized team activities. It's that dedication, led by team leaders Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson and filtering down through the rest of the roster, that allowed McCarthy and his staff to install the entire playbook during OTAs and the other offseason sessions. Thus, McCarthy was able to use the minicamp as a review — which went so well that McCarthy rewarded the players by scrapping Wednesday's practice.
"I think as a coach," McCarthy said, "when you offer a player the opportunity to improve, you give him a plan, you show exactly how he can improve in March, April, May, and then you do it year after year and you have evidence of individuals in your program that have improved, they're going to be here. Players want to get better. Players want the opportunity to compete for jobs. They want to be on a championship team, and that's all part of our plan."
Getting an earlier start on their summer vacation isn't the only prize for all of that hard work over the last three-plus months. The Packers won't practice on any of the first three Wednesdays of training camp. Whether the Packers will start the season sizzling instead of stumbling, like last year, remains to be seen, but what is inarguable is that McCarthy has his players' best interests at heart and the players, in turn, have an immense respect for their coach.
"Ted Thompson would not like our training camp practices if we didn't have the commitment," McCarthy said. "That's a joke between Ted and I. I don't know why I'm trying to be funny. To me, it's the same speech I give them every year. You've got that much work to do, and we can get it done so much in the offseason and so much in training camp, or we can do a little bit in the offseason and we can do a whole lot in training camp. That's as simple as I can put it, and that's exactly how it's been communicated to our football team. Now going through it five years, I think they appreciate the way we go about it."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.