INDIANAPOLIS – Head coaches get grilled from all angles at the NFL Scouting Combine, and the Packers’ Mike McCarthy is no different.
On Wednesday in Indianapolis, McCarthy held a formal news conference at a podium inside the Indiana Convention Center and an informal question-and-answer session with Green Bay media moments after. He also provided packers.com with some additional time over lunch at a nearby Indy restaurant.
Via a combination of his thoughts from all three settings, here are 10 things learned from McCarthy at the combine.
1. McCarthy holds T.J. Lang in very high regard and clearly wants Lang to remain on his offensive line.
Running back Eddie Lacy wasn’t the only pending free agent McCarthy sounded eager about getting re-signed.
Not only did McCarthy call Lang “as fine an offensive lineman as I’ve had an opportunity to coach in 20-plus years in this league,” but he also talked of the recovery timeline from offseason hip surgery for the Pro Bowl guard.
“It’s going to take some time,” McCarthy said. “I don’t see T.J. doing anything before training camp.”
He doesn’t want to lose Lang, who re-broke his foot in the NFC title game in Atlanta, an injury that has no impact on McCarthy’s view of his future.
“His leadership is significant in our locker room,” he said. “I’m counting on T.J. to come back.”
2. The head coach doesn’t want to see Nick Perry go elsewhere, either.
Perry posted a career-high 11 sacks in his fifth season in the league, his healthiest one despite dealing with a broken hand late in the year and playing multiple games with a club cast.
“Nick is one of our guys,” McCarthy said. “He’s a powerful man. I have a lot of love for Nick and what he’s gone through. His first couple years, it was frustrating just to watch him go through the injuries. Hopefully we can get his contract worked out.”
With all the pending free agents, though, there’s admittedly some anxiety for McCarthy, who can’t control whether or not the players he wants will return.
“I worry about it. I think it’s only natural,” he said. “But ultimately, you have to focus on what you can control. It’s a business situation between our organization and these players. Everything that we’ve done to this point as far as our investment in each of those guys, I don’t think it’s going to change anything here in the next couple weeks.
“It’s time to focus on the business opportunity and the opportunity they’ll have in Green Bay. That’s really the way I look at it.”
3. Julius Peppers’ tank apparently is not empty.
McCarthy feels Peppers, a future Hall of Famer, still has plenty to offer should he choose to continue his career in 2017. Peppers had 7½ sacks last season, plus another in the playoffs.
“I think Julius just wanted to step away from it,” he said, regarding a decision from Peppers. “I know he would like to continue to play, just as far as the conversations that we had. But it was important for him to step away.
“He can still play.”
4. If the Packers can re-sign Jared Cook, they could be just getting started with the veteran tight end in this offense.
McCarthy credited Cook for battling through not one, but two injuries in 2016 – a foot injury in the offseason and then an ankle injury that sidelined him for six regular-season games.
Mathematical projections aren’t always fair, but after Cook returned from the ankle injury, he had 42 catches for 553 yards and three TDs in nine games, including playoffs. That’s barely more than half of a regular season.
“I really like the way he came in and grabbed a hold of our offense,” McCarthy said. “He’s a playmaker. He’s a matchup problem. He’s given us some vertical stretch and some one-on-one opportunities that we haven’t had. I would just like to build off what he accomplished in his first year.”
5. Aaron Rodgers’ comment about needing to play for an NFC championship at Lambeau Field resonated with McCarthy, too.
Rodgers made his comment immediately following the loss in Atlanta, Green Bay’s second NFC title game loss in three years on the road following the overtime defeat in Seattle.
“I think you watch both championship games, the momentum and the way the home team played was clearly an advantage,” McCarthy said. “We hadn’t played down there (in Atlanta) that long ago, and to go back down there and play them again, it was a totally different atmosphere. It’s a bigger challenge. That’s stating the obvious.”
6. Clay Matthews’ listed position on the roster doesn’t mean anything.
It matters not whether Matthews is labeled an inside or outside linebacker. He’s going to continue to attack offenses from anywhere and everywhere for the Packers.
“Call him whatever you want,” McCarthy said. “He’ll play inside, he’ll play outside. We’ve kind of gone back and forth about what position he lines up at. It’s important for us to keep moving Clay around. He can’t line up in one position, we’re not taking advantage of his talents, his skill set. We need to continue to do that to create targeting problems for the offense.”
McCarthy did not have an update on Matthews’ health following his late-season shoulder injury.
7. The new offensive perimeter coach, David Raih, will be like a mega-assistant on the offensive side of the ball, working alongside multiple position coaches.
McCarthy sees this as another chance for Raih, whom he called a “dynamic young man,” to grow as a coach. Raih started in Green Bay as a coaching administrator before moving up to assistant offensive line coach last year.
“It’s an advancement from assistant offensive line, and it really is a reflection of who he’s going to be working with,” McCarthy said. “He’ll work primarily with myself and Edgar Bennett. He’ll be working with the other perimeter coaches and will have a lot more job responsibility.”
8. By no means are the Packers giving up on young cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins after their struggles last season.
This one came from GM Ted Thompson, who said the personnel department will consider the players’ struggles as they evaluate the cornerback position for 2017, but they have to recognize when health issues were in play.
“I think we have to take into account that both of those players were playing injured for much of the season,” Thompson said. “We were asking a lot of all the rest of the players that we were putting in there, and Joe Whitt did a great job getting his guys ready. But we were asking a lot of them. We’ll try again this year.”
9. Jordy Nelson’s complimentary words for the Packers’ training staff upon winning the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award were no surprise.
Nelson graciously thanked Green Bay’s medical personnel, specifically head athletic trainer Bryan Engel and assistant athletic trainer Nate Weir, when he received the award at the NFL Honors show.
“When you’re recovering from a big injury, it’s a very personal time for every player, and that relationship between the player and the training staff, and the player and the strength and conditioning staff, needs to be maximized, and those guys did a phenomenal job,” McCarthy said.
“We’ll take it one year at a time, but I can’t say enough about what he was able to accomplish. That speaks volumes about him.”
10. Green Bay’s young receivers will be intriguing to watch develop, too.
Fifth-round pick Trevor Davis and undrafted free agent Geronimo Allison will get a chance to build on the starts to their careers in their second seasons.
“(Davis) came from the biggest challenge as far as the system (in college at Cal), how they played before,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, he had some bumps and bruises early in the year, but he was ready to play there Week 8, 9 on. It was more about opportunities.”
Allison did not come out of nowhere, as the popular narrative goes, at least not in the head coach’s eyes.
“I think you saw that building,” McCarthy said of Allison’s 13 catches for 222 yards and a TD over the final five games, including playoffs. “He was definitely someone we were excited about in training camp. He was ready before that opportunity came, and it’s always refreshing when guys take advantage of it.”