First, it won’t be the same because the team is coming off a Super Bowl championship. There will naturally be more attention on the organization’s every move, and because the team played a month longer than most, the offseason calendar will be adjusted accordingly.
And second, just how that offseason calendar gets constructed is totally uncertain due to the ongoing negotiations between the league and the players’ association for a new collective bargaining agreement. If a new agreement isn’t reached by the first week of March, the NFL offseason as everyone has come to know it – with the exception of the draft in late April – won’t really exist until a new CBA is in place.
“We’re in uncharted territory as far as how the spring is going to lay out,” McCarthy said in his season-ending press conference on Wednesday from the Lambeau Field auditorium.
For now, McCarthy’s approach will be to have his coaching staff focus on two things – the upcoming draft and the annual scheme evaluation.
As usual, the entire coaching staff will attend the Combine in Indianapolis later this month, and scouting reports on prospects will be given a high priority because regardless of what happens with the CBA, the draft will take place.
The other priority is the scheme evaluation, during which the coaches go over every snap from the past season in their respective areas – offense, defense and special teams. That will get done in due time as well so that the coaching staff will be prepared for whenever an offseason program – involving strength and conditioning, individual workouts, and OTAs – takes place, if there is one.
McCarthy said because the season went so long, he wouldn’t be starting the offseason program in the usual mid-March time frame but waiting until April anyway. With the CBA uncertainty, however, there’s no point in even laying out a detailed schedule in advance because there’s no way to know what portion of the calendar will be available, whether it be for individual workouts, OTAs, or McCarthy’s quarterback school.
“Typically in the staff meeting after the season concludes, I pretty much a have the whole season laid out for our coaching staff,” McCarthy said. “That’s not the case this year. You have to make sure you have the opportunity to develop your team, particularly your young players. The players that go from Year 1 to Year 2, that’s their biggest window in my opinion for them to develop. So that may be, not in jeopardy, but it will be a different course of action to accomplish that this year.
“We’re going to go about it like we always do. We’re going to focus on our scheme, focus on our system, how we can make it better, and make sure that when the players do come back that we’re ready to go for them.”
Keeping scheduling on hold applies to training camp as well, because if there is a protracted lockout that lasts into the summer, there’s no telling when training camp would actually begin. On top of that, if one result of the CBA negotiations is an expanded, 18-game regular season with only two preseason games, McCarthy said he would implement an altered camp schedule with some ideas related to lessening injury risk that he’s thought about implementing in the past.
Those concerns have always been balanced against the need to get the team ready to compete over the long haul, but the balance shifts somewhat if two games are added to the regular-season schedule, especially for a team that had 16 players on injured reserve this past year.
“I spend a lot of time crunching numbers, padded practice, non-padded practices, situational offense and defense,” McCarthy said. “We’re looking at it all of the time.
“If we go to 18 games, my training camp schedule definitely will change.”
What won’t change, and will in fact take on a heightened importance going forward, is the one thing McCarthy believes is “the biggest challenge in this business” – handling success.
To McCarthy, that means staying true to what helped accomplish the success in the first place, and never losing sight of that.
For the administration, that means making decisions that are in the best interests of winning games. For General Manager Ted Thompson and his personnel staff – who began their pre-Combine draft meetings on Tuesday this week – that means doing their due diligence on all draft-eligible players and available free agents, just like they always do. For the coaches, that means being ready for anything that may come their way in terms of injuries, lineup adjustments and the like, and not allow anything to throw them off course.
Most importantly, it’s the players who must handle success appropriately, because as Super Bowl champions, they’ll be in demand in various ways over the next several months – from television and radio shows to endorsement deals to other publicity opportunities.
But if they’re paying attention, they’ll know that the team will be bringing back probably more than a dozen players from injured reserve, which will put a number of roster spots up for grabs whenever the on-field preparation for the new season begins. And they’ll have to keep that in mind.
“The competition is going to go up, like you said with the IR, new draft class, expectations,” McCarthy said. “All those components are going to be very real when we come together as a football team. We’ll take it one day at a time. But that’s the challenge.”
The inevitable influx of players gives the Packers a greater opportunity than most Super Bowl champs have to improve their team. But McCarthy cautioned that it won’t do any good to focus too much on who’s on the team at the expense of how the team plays together.
That’s the lesson to be learned from 2010, because with all the injuries the Packers suffered, they weren’t the most talented team in the league at season’s end. But they became the best team because of how they played the game.
“It’s a great experience for us to learn from,” McCarthy said. “It will be a great experience for us to draw from.
“We have an opportunity to start the season as a very talented football team. But we have to make sure we’re the best football team, that everybody’s doing their role, doing what they’re supposed to be doing at the level they’re supposed to be doing it. Because that was a great experience to watch this group of men pull together and fight through the adversity that they needed to, and play their best football when it counted.”
News & Notes
--The only postseason surgery McCarthy said is necessary at this point is an arthroscopic procedure on linebacker A.J. Hawk’s wrist, which was termed a “chronic” injury. Receiver Jordy Nelson, who was seen on crutches during the “Return To Titletown” celebration on Tuesday, has a bursa sac injury in his knee that is not considered serious. Neither receiver Donald Driver’s ankle injury nor cornerback Charles Woodson’s broken collarbone is expected to require surgery at this point either. Rookie cornerback Sam Shields’ shoulder strain is undergoing further tests.
--Of the many congratulatory messages he received, McCarthy noted those from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rooney family and President Obama as the most significant. He said Ambassador Dan Rooney and Art Rooney Sr. came into the locker room after Sunday’s game to offer their best wishes, which meant a lot to him as both the opposing coach and a Pittsburgh native.
He said President Obama began his phone call by saying, “This is a tough phone call for a Bears fan to make,” but proceeded to be very complimentary of the team, as well as knowledgeable about the team. He also invited the team to visit the White House, but a trip like that could depend on the CBA situation as well, because that would normally happen in the spring when the team is together for a mini-camp or OTA.
--The identity of the guest speaker at the team meeting the night before the Super Bowl was confirmed. It was Kevin Elko, a nationally known motivational speaker from McCarthy’s hometown of Pittsburgh. The theme of his address to the team was “Outlive your life,” which in this case meant seizing the opportunity to establish a lasting legacy by winning a Super Bowl.
Should McCarthy get a Green Bay street named after him, as mayor Jim Schmitt promised on Tuesday, that would fit the bill. The way history remembers Super Bowl champions, especially in a community like Green Bay, should accomplish that for all of the players as well.
“I told the football team yesterday that we’ll all be connected together for the rest of our lives,” McCarthy said. “We’ll all be connected as champions.
“Super Bowl XLV will always be special and it will definitely outlive all of our lives.”