Since his first gig in Green Bay as the quarterbacks coach in 1999, Mike McCarthy has seen Lambeau Field undergo so many renovations and remodeling projects that he’s lost count.
So when the Packers coach started talking about the new cafeteria and new weight room that are in the works at 1265 Lombardi Avenue, he wasn’t quite sure which project will be completed when. There’s the in-progress project in the south end zone, which should be done before the start of the 2013 season, and there’s the planned renovation of the atrium area, which is next. Both have projects that will improve the football facilities.
“I don’t know if this is part of the current renovation or what,” McCarthy chuckled during a break in the annual NFL Meetings at the Arizona Biltmore hotel.
But those capital projects aren’t the only renovations the Packers have on the docket. The coach has a rebuilding project of his own planned: An overhaul of his offseason program and training camp after he felt poor practices were among the reasons the team’s 2012 season was, in the end, a disappointment.
“I wasn’t real happy with the way our offseason program went last year, so we’re going to do a much better job of that this year,” said McCarthy, whose offseason program kicks off on April 15. “I didn’t like all the practices. I didn’t like all the attention to the practices. I didn’t like all the attention to our particular team about the practices.”
With the different offseason rules in effect from the new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association – remember, the 2011 offseason was wiped out by the lockout – McCarthy felt that his players and coaches weren’t on the same page in terms of what could and could not be done during practice.
In fact, at one point during an organized team activity practice, veteran center Jeff Saturday – the player who’d been instrumental in the writing of the practice rules in his role with the NFLPA – turned to a group of reporters on the sideline and said, “Does that look like contact to you guys?” He was referring to rules that non-padded OTA practices were to be non-contact.
“I think (with) our players, there was confusion. …I think there was (a variety of) opinions and new rules,” McCarthy said. “I don’t care if you handed every one of us the new rule, we’d have different interpretations. That’s human nature.”
Asked if he felt players took issue with the practices or complained, McCarthy replied, “I wouldn’t say it was pushback, I just think it’s a matter of when your players take the field, especially our players, we’ve got the same coaching staff, a lot of the same players (and yet) it took us too long to get going.
“Every coach goes through it: You set a practice schedule, you have drills, you have tempo, you have expectations of what you’re trying to get done. It’s my job to ultimately hit those expectations, and it wasn’t our best offseason OTA wise.”
It’s unclear if Saturday, who signed with the Packers after 13 years with the Indianapolis Colts and wound up playing only one season in Green Bay, or anyone else ever complained to the league or the NFLPA about the Packers’ practices. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Monday that he was unaware of any complaints but suggested contacting the NFLPA. George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director of external affairs, did not respond to an email.
McCarthy felt the poor spring practices led to a trickle-down effect that impacted the quality of his team’s training-camp practices.
“I just thought coming out of Phase II and into Phase III, you usually get a lot more done, and I did not feel good about it,” McCarthy said. “We keep daily notes of everything that goes on at every practice, and especially this time of the year when you’re going back and trying to nail it down, I didn’t feel like we did the amount of work (needed) — which I knew we wouldn’t get the same amount of work done with four weeks less time.
“But I didn’t feel very good about what we accomplished in the OTAs, so (now) we’re really diving into that, looking at a number of different things.”
And the less-than-ideal spring and summer led to a slow start in the fall, as the Packers opened the season by losing three of their first five games before a five-game winning streak.
“We didn’t start fast. I’m not talking about our record, I’m talking about quality of play,” McCarthy said. “Our quality of play was not what it needed to be the first four weeks.”
Before the lockout and the CBA changes, McCarthy had felt very good about the team’s offseason program. He expressed his concerns about the new rules at last year’s NFL Meetings, and given the success his team had under the old offseason rules – they went on to win Super Bowl XLV after the 2010 season – it was clear that McCarthy and his staff really did have reason to feel good about the structure of their program.
Now, their goal is to find a way to replicate that structure under the new rules. McCarthy emphasized that his coaches enter every offseason expecting “25 to 30 new faces” each year by the time the draft is over and undrafted rookie free agents are signed, and that figures to be the case this year, too.
“I really felt before the (new) CBA we had a really good program. The amount of work and progress we were able to accomplish in March, April and June and see it carry into training camp (was good),” McCarthy said. “To me, I always look for that point in training camp where my team starts going. And we didn’t have that this year.
“It was just a change, a change in the offseason program, and in my opinion it takes time to get your team to practice the right way. And the right way wasn’t good enough.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy said the process continues on the medical staff’s study of the high number of injuries the Packers sustained in 2010 and 2012, and while some of the data culled from the study will also impact the offseason and training-camp plans, McCarthy acknowledged that the study won’t lead to all the answers. He also said he had no issue with the medical staff – “We don’t need better care,” he said – or how the trainers and doctors handle injuries.
“Breaking the injuries down into different categories, which we’ve done, now you look at the ones that are preventable,” McCarthy said. “That’s where you go back and look at every rep – whether it’s on the practice field, in weight room, the load of every rep and those type of things. We’re going to adjust.
“When our players get back, it’s going to be different. We believe in our program, we believe in the way we go about things, but there’s going to be some clear-cut adjustments, and it’s important that we accomplish that and it pushes us to where we want to go to.”
McCarthy said the analysis didn’t show the poor OTA practices, which then led to the greater workload in training camp, resulted in more injuries.
“What do you do (after OTAs)? You push them harder in training camp. So then what happens when you push them in training camp? Do your fatigue injuries go up? I thought that was going to be the case. That wasn’t really the case,” McCarthy said. “Did those loaded reps really hurt at the start of the season? Believe me, those are the things I’m looking at.