Mike McCarthy sent his players and coaches off on vacation feeling very good about the work his Green Bay Packers had put in during the nine-week spring offseason program.
Now, the 12th-year head coach hopes it translates to a second Super Bowl title after disappointing NFC Championship Game losses to end two of the past three seasons.
“We have a lot invested here. We got a lot of work done,” McCarthy said. “The workload is significantly higher than last year, just going through all our data and meeting with the medical staff and our strength and conditioning staff. Things are really laid out for a great training camp. We’re looking forward to stepping away here for a few weeks as coaches and the players.”
When they return, they’ll come back to an Aaron Rodgers-led offense with scoreboard short-circuiting potential and new wrinkles thanks to the offseason addition of free-agent tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, and a defense that must improve – sound familiar? – to give them a fighting chance at the franchise’s 14th championship.
“Everyone knows what our goals are here. When we’ve accomplished that goal or when we’ve been close to accomplishing that goal, we’ve played pretty well on defense,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said, referring to the 2010 title team and the 2014 team whose second-half defensive resurgence had the Packers minutes away from a Super Bowl berth.
“Obviously, when you have an offense like we have and a quarterback like we have, they are always going to be up there. I think when you look at your team and your goals and you’re going to try to be the best, you’ve got to work towards that. We set a high standard that way. If you don’t reach that standard, you feel pressure to go ahead and accomplish it. We know what it’s going to take for us to do what we want to do.”
With July 27’s first training-camp practice less than a month away, here’s a position-by-position look at where the Packers stand:
“He was very excited to get back this year and get going,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van pelt said. “I think he also enjoys the part of the process of helping these younger guys by leading by example, showing them things, little tricks. I’ve seen him take more of a coach approach in that regard, which has been awesome. His love for the game will never change, but I think at times when you become an established, elite player, you need to find different ways to motivate yourself, and I think he realizes what he can do when he comes in in the offseason. As good as he is, he gets better.”
“You’re always going to, based off how guys are drafted, initially give them the benefit of being featured a lot more than the other guys. But as I tell the other guys, you’re going to get your chances and opportunities,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said. “Particularly once we get into those early preseason games. Once they start showing certain traits and we’re like, ‘Man, this guy, we’ve got to figure out how to get him more playing time,’ that’s when you’ll start to see certain things even out.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s a bounce-back year (for Cobb). He played really well for us when he was full go,” wide receivers coach Luke Getsy said. “Shoot, that first playoff game, he wasn’t even healthy for that one and he played his butt off. When you have a guy like him that’s so dynamic with the football in his hands, you’ve got to get him the football.”
“I think they both did a good job picking up the system,” tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said of Bennett and Kendricks. “I think it’s (about) the familiarity with Aaron, how he wants things, getting on the same page with the routes, with some of the signals, just the whole mannerisms of how the operation works. I think that’s the biggest thing, and obviously reps help that.”
“Look, we have very good depth right now. There’s good players. There’s a lot of guys that are going to rise up,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “Let’s see what happens.”
“It depends on how these young guys come around,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac replied when asked during minicamp about the depth. “With Dean and Kenny, we’ve got some second-year guys that we’ll be counting on. They’ve done a fabulous job to this point, but we’re running around in underwear right now. We’ll find out when the pads come on for real.”
“They’ve just got to do their best every day. It’s not that hard,” linebackers coach Winston Moss said. “Come to work. Do what you can do as well as you can do it every single day. Make the most of every opportunity you can. And the rest will take care of itself.”
“I still think there’s something special with the middle linebacker position in the game of football,” inside linebackers coach Scott McCurley said. “So I think with those guys, they know they can fill a role in this defense.”
“I will say this, and I’m not going to get ahead of myself, but if we play to our potential, we have a chance to be as good as any group that we might’ve had here,” Whitt said. “You know, the ’09 and ’10 groups were special groups, so I don’t know if we can reach that type of group. … But I’m excited about what we can be. Now, we need to get there.”
“He does have some unique ability,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “It’s still early, and I think Ha can be as good as he wants to be. I really do believe that.”
“We’ve got to do is give our offense good field position,” Zook said. “The thing we’ve got to do is, those other 10 guys, we’ve got to have them playing at a very high level and the best they can be. Whoever (McCarthy) decides we want back there, we’re going to make it as easy for him as we can.”