GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Coach Mike McCarthy burst through the door of the Packers media room like a fullback bulldozing through the line of scrimmage, eager to get training camp started in Green Bay.
The eighth-year head coach is making a few tweaks this summer following the sting of back-to-back, second-round playoff losses — which for the perennial Super Bowl contender counts as a big disappointment.
“Our goal never changes. It’s always the same,” McCarthy said Thursday. “We have a theme and it’s obviously an illustration of how I see this football team and the path that we’re going to take.”
He didn’t get into specifics. The players will get that speech first Thursday night in a team meeting.
But the expectations don’t change, not for a franchise that’s won four Super Bowl titles and 13 NFL championships overall. There’s a reason they call this place Titletown, after all, and not just for the two straight NFC North crowns.
So it’s up bright and early Friday for a first day of practice that starts at 8:20 a.m. The earlier start is typical for the regular season but not as much for camp.
“One of the strengths, I’ve always felt, particularly when you’re dealing with group dynamics, is get ‘em up early. Get your heavy lifting done in the morning. And so we were always doing that in-season,” McCarthy said. “We go to the night schedule in training camp for other reasons. The (morning) practice schedule is definitely one of those topics … that I feel will help us as a football team as far as battling potential fatigue injuries, what every team is threatened by in a training camp schedule.”
The Packers last year finished 11-5 after overcoming a 2-3 start. They beat the Vikings in the playoffs before falling to the 49ers.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the receivers filled up the highlight reels, but a subpar running game was one of the Packers’ biggest problems after finishing 11th in the NFC in rushing (106.4 yards per game). General manager Ted Thompson replenished the backfield in the draft with Alabama’s Eddie Lacy in the second round and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin in the fourth. Alex Green, DuJuan Harris and James Starks are also back.
Maybe one of those backs will be Green Bay’s first single-game, 100-yard rusher in almost three years.
“Big letters — that’s adamant, OK? Hey, we need to run the ball better. That’s fact of the matter,” McCarthy said. “We put a lot of points on the board. It falls in line with our goal each and every week, and each and every day … We’re about winning and quality of play.”
Of course, it helps to have one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks in Rodgers and a receiving corps led by Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones that is seemingly strong enough to withstand the departure of veteran Greg Jennings (Vikings) and retirement of Donald Driver.
But it’s awfully helpful to have a consistent running game.
“Running the football is a collective effort. There has to be commitment from the play-caller,” said McCarthy, referring to himself. “It’s something we need to do a better job of and I’m confident that we will.”
The opening day for the veterans was all about player testing, introductory meetings and getting settled in. The Packers also officially welcomed rookie defensive end Datone Jones after signing the first-round draft pick. The 6-foot-4 Jones, who had career-best 62 tackles and 6½ sacks last year for UCLA, will be counted on to help a defense that gave up too many big plays in 2012.
He’s sure to be received heartily by McCarthy, a football lifer who has impressed Thompson so much in his nine years in Green Bay that the boss told team shareholders this week he “thanked God every day” that McCarthy was the head coach.
“The offseason to me is all about the preparation for today,” McCarthy said. “If you’re in this league long enough, (you have a) chance to be away with your family and take a break, and then the Fourth of July comes, the fireworks go off and it just seems like that’s the time you start looking (at the calendar), ‘When do things start?’”
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