As the kickoff hour approaches, the anticipation heightens.
“The energy is good. I like the fact this game is right there ready to go. We don’t have a 10-day wait since the last preseason game. We’re ready to go,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said after putting his team through a brief, Friday-like practice on Tuesday.
McCarthy has been pronouncing his team “ready to go” for the past two weeks. As the coach met with reporters on Tuesday, he clearly had his game-face on.
“I’ve grown past the nervous stage, but any time you walk out into Lambeau Field and you don’t have energy in your stomach, I’d probably need to go home,” McCarthy said.
They’ll all be here on Thursday, from Kid Rock to Lady Antebellum to the whole football-watching free world. The drama builds daily, along with the stage on which Kid and Lady will perform on Thursday, the stage in the middle of Oneida St. that bears these big, bold words: “Back To Football.”
The New Orleans Saints will be here, too, and they are a formidable foe only a year removed from having hosted this game. They are also a team being picked by many to host this game next season.
“I think you have two good programs getting ready to play a football game,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy’s defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, is preparing his defense to face one of the game’s most vaunted offenses. It is led, of course, by one of the game’s premier quarterbacks, a name to be compared to the game’s reigning Super Bowl MVP, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.
“The quarterback is outstanding,” Capers said of Brees. “He makes very good decisions. He can change from a run to a pass and a pass to a run. You have to be on your toes in terms of what personnel groups they have on the field, and then they give you a high-tempo look.”
Capers and his Saints counterpart, Gregg Williams, are going to be high-profile figures on Thursday because they each will be facing an offense that can light up all of the bulbs on the scoreboard.
What else about Thursday’s game is heightening their anticipation?
“You know you’re going to see a lot more unscouted looks because it’s the first game. You’re going to see a lot different team,” Capers said.
Williams, no doubt, is saying the same in New Orleans this week.
“If you stick with one thing, you’re going to have trouble,” Capers said, knowing he’ll have to give Brees a lot of different looks to avoid having Brees lock in on the Packers’ scheme.
“It’s the focal point,” Capers said of the quarterback position, when asked where his focus is for stopping the Saints. “That’s where everything starts with the Saints.”
Williams, no doubt, is saying the same about Rodgers and the Packers in New Orleans this week.
Capers has an extra concern about facing these Saints: They have the ingredients for a strong running game.
“They have a strong offensive line. They can mix run and pass. You see that with (Mark) Ingram and Pierre Thomas back,” Capers said.
Thomas, a budding star in 2009, missed most of last season with an ankle injury. He’s back but the Saints added Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner, in the draft and what was the league’s 28th rushing attack last season is expected to be much improved this year. Capers expects that the Saints will test the Packers’ run-defense on Thursday.
The Packers hope defensive end Mike Neal can return to action after having missed the final three preseason games due to a knee injury.
“We’ll watch the tape (of practice) today with the defensive staff and we’ll see what they think of Mike. We’ll take Mike’s situation up to the game,” McCarthy said.
Rookie linebacker Vic So’oto injured his back lifting weights and did not practice on Tuesday. The Packers and Saints will issue their official injury reports on Wednesday.
“First game is always the best,” McCarthy said when asked about his team’s mood at practice. “Start of the season; it’s exciting. You can’t help but notice that.”
Anywhere you go, the anticipation for the start of a new season is building. Additional coverage - Sept. 6