Holmgren, for his part, is used to his teams being the subject of great expectations from his days in Green Bay – now, he gets to experience that feeling all over again. “I think it’s healthy to pump themselves up and get a good feeling about where they are and where the team is, I think that’s a healthy thing.”, Holmgren said today. “I will always add that thinking about it is one thing and making it happen is another. How you do that is through a lot of hard work. The things that at times aren’t so much fun; I believe they understand what they need to do.”
When asked about the things expected of his team and how it might affect the players, Holmgren was frank. “I think it's important for your team to believe in the goals you set for them and really believe that they are attainable. I think that you have to be brutally honest with them in our meetings and in the locker-room. No one is going to con anybody at this level, so how they feel about it helps them succeed. If you go into it with any less of an attitude, you’re almost defeated before you start.”
New DE Grant Wistrom had failed his physical due to plantar fasciitis, (foot pain below the heel), but Holmgren sounded optimistic about Wistrom’s downtime being short. “I think it’s going to be about two weeks. In Grant’s situation, and the guys that did not pass their physicals, I think we’re being very conservative this year. I would say two weeks right now; don’t hold my feet to the fire on that, but I’m thinking two weeks.”
Regarding first-round draft pick DT Marcus Tubbs, and the assumption that his TBD contract status was the sole reason for his absence today, Holmgren revealed another unfortunate reason to the assembled media. “I talked to Marcus last evening because his mom is sick.”, Holmgren said. “So the business part of it, that will happen. I’ve been doing this a long time, and honestly, the new me doesn’t get quite as excited at those things (not being signed). In my mind (family), that always comes first with the players. We talked about that more than the other stuff."
When asked if Tubbs’ return was imminent, Holmgren said, "I don’t know.(It’s contingent on) when he signs his deal. He wants to be here, but, you know, with a first-round pick, it can happen. Marcus needs to be here, but Marcus is going to be here. I don’t think that’s going to be a prolonged battle.”
He also sounded more relaxed than in the past about perennial holdout LT Walter Jones: “Walter? Did you see Walter? (laughter). With Walter it’s been kind of the same way for three years now, so when he’s here, he’s here. I welcome him with open arms and he is a great player for us.”
Holmgren also detailed the continuing role of Pork Chop Womack as Jones’ “substitute” in training camp. “Wayne Hunter can’t practice yet (wrist injury), so we had to re-adjust the tackles. Pork Chop is one of our better linemen, and while he played guard at our mini-camps, at long range he’ll probably play guard. For right now we’re going to put him at left tackle. Certainly, while Wayne is not in there. He’s the most experienced guy we got. In the preseason you need an experienced guy in there.”
Hunter’s injury doesn’t sound terribly serious, either. “I would say (with) Wayne and Wistrom we’ll be looking at the same thing.”
When asked about the position battles and shifts as camp goes on, Coach Holmgren talked about his focus. “The difference between our one’s and two’s and even our three’s is smaller now than it used to be. The gap isn’t as big. You might see a different guy starting out there tomorrow morning or afternoon. I’m going to have the coaches evaluate that on a practice-to-practice basis. My feeling is if you want to hold and maintain your position you have to come to practice everyday and not drop passes, not fumble the ball, not miss pass protection, not do those things. Otherwise it’s so close now, as I told them last night we’re going to play the best guys. I want to do that. I don’t want that to be lip service from a coach, or coach talk. We have a good football team and I don’t want to short-change those guys who should be on the field and aren’t because of whatever. The best guys-we’re trying to determine who those guys are and put them out there.”
“I think that’s going to be competitive.", Holmgren said. "For roster spots there’s going to be huge competition at wide receiver, there’s going to be huge competition at offensive line, there’s going to be a real competition in the backfield and offensive backfield. As for defensive line, when we get down to the final cut of fifty-three, there are going to be some good football players that can play in this league, and I haven’t been able to make that statement every year.”
Apparently, Koren Robinson came in a little below 100%: “Koren came in with a little bit of hip soreness and they (trainers) gave him an MRI yesterday.”, said Holmgren. “It’s kind of a carry-over a little bit from mini-camp, he should be fine and out practicing within the next few days.”
The beginning of camp is where undrafted free agents get their shot to show what they can do: “They’ve been at mini-camps enough where they should be able to let it go and just play.”, Holmgren revealed. “I tried to tell them all last night-and it’s the same thing with a handful of guys every year. If you’re an undrafted free agent, you are running up hill, and it’s tough. It’s tough to beat the odds, but every team has a few guys that do beat those odds. Look at D.D. Lewis, a great example of a guy that came in and impressed us, earned a spot on special teams, and now we reward him with a three year contract. And he deserves it. My whole thing with those kids is don’t count numbers. Don’t say, okay, there are eight guys at this position and they are only going to keep five of us. I don’t have much of a chance. Don’t do that. Just come in and be the best player you can be and do everything you can do, and then trust us to make an honest, thoughtful decision of who should be on the football team. If they can do that, they’ll have no regrets on whatever happens. I think those two kids are just that, and that’s all I can ask of them.”
Knowing you’re close
to the top is a good feeling, but Mike Holmgren knows that the proof won’t
come until the team takes the field. “Well, we won’t complete the
project until we get there, you know? I think we’re a more solid football
team in a lot of areas, I think we have a good blend of veterans and young guys,
who are a little young in a couple of positions; a little younger than I’d
like, but we’ve improved. We’re getting better and we’re getting
When asked by the media if the team’s rise to the top had taken longer than he expected, Holmgren was candid. “We are living in an impatient society. In this business, at times, it can take a little longer than the fans want, than I want, than everyone wants. If I looked back on the last five years and didn’t know why it hasn’t happened, then I’d be a little nervous. But we’ve made progress, we’ve had the philosophy of building a team through the draft, and it took a couple of years to solidify the quarterback position, which I think is very important, and then getting Ray Rhodes in to coach the defense. And we continue to see defense improvements. Sometimes you’ve got to believe in what you do and I think we’ve stayed the course. It has been hard at times, but we’ll all enjoy it when it happens."
Holmgren also talked about leadership: “It’s funny you should say that. I spoke with the team last night and I’m very, very pleased with our leadership right now. I told them to be who you are, and lead. If you’re vocal, lead by example. If you lead by hard work, by being the first one to the meetings, there are a lot of forms of leadership, and we now have some guys that I can honestly say, it’s you’re football team and guys will follow you and use you as an example. That hasn’t always been the case, and it has been a little bit of a struggle that way, but I’m very pleased that we have different types of leaders, so that’s good. There’s a good feeling on the team, and we feel pretty good about what we could do."
According to interview transcripts, Holmgren closed out Day One with a look at what he’s going into 2004 looking to improve: “I kind of highlight the areas for the team that I wanted them to really focus on, because there’s more than a few mistakes. You could have a list of one hundred and that’s too much to digest. So I said, let’s look at these six areas. If we improve, and they know we can improve, in these six areas we should be a better football team. It should work that way. How close were we last year? If we can be better, heck, who knows? That’s what we’re trying to do. Yeah. We're working and talking about those areas specifically, and I will be talking about it a lot it with the team."