Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during an NFL football
mini camp practice Tuesday, June. 17, 2014, in Green Bay,
GREEN BAY —
When Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and the rest of the Packers are
healthy, they might be able to beat anybody in the NFL.
Now if only they
could stay out of that crowded trainer's room.
McCarthy is preparing for the worst, just in case, after 2013's
So come training
camp, Green Bay will be getting used to schemes that have been
simplified a bit — particularly on defense — in hopes of
gaining more roster flexibility. The acclimation process started
during offseason workouts.
learned some hard lessons here of late," McCarthy said.
"The last couple years of maybe playing some players that
probably weren't quite ready because of the scheme ... we're
playing off utilizing your best players, and that's a trap you
just don't want to fall into as a coach."
Cheeseheads, No. 12 isn't going anywhere. Offensive Rookie of the
Year Eddie Lacy is back, too, at running back, along with Jordy
Nelson and Randall Cobb at receiver. There will be position
battles at center, the wide receiver position after the top two,
and tight end.
But with Rodgers
back and in his prime at age 30, the Packers are a favorite to win
a fourth straight NFC North title. They appeared well on their way
in 2013 to at least a 12-win season when Rodgers broke his
collarbone at midseason.
To get further
than the first round of the playoffs, the defense will have to get
better. Here's where one of McCarthy's bold proclamations comes
to be a better defense this year," McCarthy said. "You
can write that in big letters."
Some things to
watch in Packers camp:
GETTING A GRIP:
Matthews spent much of last season nagged by a thumb injury. After
having surgery, the linebacker had been working on getting his
grip back and strengthening his forearms.
The rest of the
defense can't wait to see what the pass rush might look like with
a healthy Matthews on the field at the same time as the team's big
free agent signee, 6-foot-7 end-linebacker Julius Peppers.
"But like a
really dominant player on the outside, I really haven't had that
ever," Peppers said of Matthews. "I'm excited to get out
there with him and see what he can do."
Speaking of the former Chicago Bear, Peppers has just the kind of
resume McCarthy was looking for in trying to add impact players on
defense. Sure, he's 34 and had only seven sacks last year, down
from two straight seasons of at least 11. But Peppers has 118½
sacks in his 12-year career.
has been smooth.
"From what I
heard, they scaled things back, made it a little bit
simpler," he said. "That's good for me coming in, I
don't have to learn as much."
ELEPHANT ON THE
FIELD: Next stop on the defense, the elephant.
It's a new term
for a position with the Packers, though the task as described by
coordinator Dom Capers sounds as if it might already fit a few
players in the 3-4 scheme. That includes Peppers and linebackers
Nick Perry and Mike Neal.
for us could maybe be in certain schemes an outside backer. He
could be a defensive end in other schemes," Capers said.
"When you have a number of different schemes, you could see a
number of different elephants on the field in different spots
based off what those schemes are."
MAKE AN IMPACT:
Green Bay safeties didn't get an interception in 2013,
exemplifying the team's season-long woes in not coming up with
enough big plays.
for the preseason, but rookies or younger players who can make
those impact plays might get the most opportunities for time on
At safety, the
Packers drafted Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round to
fill a major need. Micah Hyde has seen more time at safety this
offseason after a solid rookie season at cornerback.
Clinton-Dix's progress at safety will bear watching, as will the
preseason of receiver Davante Adams, a second-round pick. Camp
will be a chance for Adams to establish himself as a viable option
to catch passes from Rodgers that used to go to James Jones, who
signed as a free agent with Oakland.