The playoff disaster of 2011 is ancient history and the Green Bay Packers are forward thinking as they drew the curtain on their off-season work Thursday, concluding the three day mandatory mini-camp. A rookie orientation followed by three weeks of organized team activities was not all playbook installation, film review and X's and O's on the field. Veteran Josh Sitton couldn't resist a comical jersey name switch with equipment manager Red Batty for the final camp workout. New free agent center Jeff Saturday was flanked by the first team guards, Evan Dietrich-Smith on his left and Sitton in his right, but when you saw the back of their jersies, yup, they read Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The three day camp actually had just two on-field workouts because on Wednesday, Mike McCarthy informed the team at about 8:30 AM to board the busses outside Lambeau Field. They rolled north to the Little Creek Lodge in Little Suamico for a day of skeet shooting. The team building exercise was good for laughs. While several players are avid hunters, most had never even picked up a gun. Desmond Bishop went 0 for 4 in his first round with the clays but he said James Jones was even worse, thankfully, nobody shot their eye out.
As for the 2012 squad that is now just beginning to form: the only question marks on offense appear to be at running back, depth along the offensive line and two positively green backup quarterbacks behind the league's MVP in Aaron Rodgers. With Ryan Grant out of the picture, James Starks will inherit the lead back role. Alex Green is coming off major knee surgery and Brandon Saine is still raw. It's not like the Packers need a 1600 yard rusher but they do need a back to consistently keep defenses honest. Saturday should be an able successor to Scott Wells and Marhsall Newhouse will be fine at left tackle but again, the three, maybe four backup offensive linemen might be overmatched if they're asked to play considerable snaps because of a front line injury. If Rodgers gets hurt, look out. Graham Harrell has made strides but with Matt Flynn in Seattle, having him a play away makes me nervous. Draft choice B.J. Coleman is high on enthusiasm but long on techniques, even McCarthy admits, "He's got a lot to learn."
McCarthy said the thing he likes most about his entire roster is the overall athleticism, particularly on defense. If there's strength in numbers, the defensive line will have to be better. Veteran free agents and draft choices could completely overhaul this group outside of B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett. Will Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Dan Muir and Phillip Merling replace the likes of C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn and hold the fort until Mike Neal returns after the first month and Anthony Hargrove at mid-season when their suspensions are up? The eye catching undrafted college free agent to this point is linebacker Dezman Moses out of Tulane. He has shown a burst off the edge and capped his practice month with another sack on the final team drill of the camp. The secondary depth will be improved, I like what I saw of draft picks Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian.
Then again, it was just shorts and helmets. It's a far more telling, an intense time when the pads go on in July. McCarthy released his training camp schedule Thursday. The team reports to St. Norbert's McCormick Hall on Wednesday July 25 and the first workout is bright and early the next morning, at 8:15 AM. In fact, the first six practices of camp are early morning sessions, followed by 6 of the next 7 practices at 7:00 PM. The final two weeks of pre-season practices will be at mid-day. McCarthy's method to this madness takes into account the regular season's first month. The Packers open on a Sunday at 3:15 PM, play four nights later at Lambeau, takes 10 days off for a Monday nighter in week 3 followed by another doubleheader kickoff in week 4. From there on out, the Packers are set to play all noon games. The flucuating camp practice times are designed to match the body clock changes the team is in for during the regular season.
While my Packers blog will go on hiatus for a while, I'll update it for any major news and just before camp begins, there's Mike Holmgren's induction into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame and the annual stockholder's meeting on Tuesday, July 24, which could bring over 40,000 owners thanks to last year's hugely successful stock sale. On the link below, highlights from McCarthy's final off-season new conference at Lambeau.