It’s getting to be another rite of summer in Green Bay.
Players ride kids’ bikes to practice, railbirds line the fences of the field, and storms suspend “Family Night.”
For the third time in the last four years, a storm interrupted the annual “Family Night” at Lambeau Field on Saturday. The football portion of the activities ended after the first-team offense got a couple of drives in, but after that, the 43,048 in attendance were forced to wait out the storm in the concourses before returning for the fireworks display.
“We need to look at the Farmer’s Almanac or something,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “Unbelievable. You really feel bad for the fans. This is such a special evening for the families, the kids, the fireworks, the whole deal. Everybody looks forward to it.”
As genuinely disappointed as McCarthy was, football-wise he also saw a silver lining to the abbreviated evening, which will be followed by a scheduled day off for the players on Sunday.
Since arriving in Green Bay early last week following the conclusion of the lockout, the players have been absorbed in their playbooks and spending more time in meetings and in gymnasium walk-throughs than in a normal training camp, because of the elimination of two-a-days. McCarthy can see the mental grind taking its toll.
“In hindsight, this may have been a pretty good break for the football team,” McCarthy said. “I think mentally they’re worn down. We’ve accomplished a lot this week, even with the day off on Tuesday. I think they’re mentally worn down more than physically, in my opinion. Tonight’s break might be helpful from that standpoint.”
As for the football action, the No. 1 offense got off to an inauspicious start, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ first pass was picked off by undrafted rookie cornerback Brandian Ross of Youngstown State and returned 24 yards for a touchdown.
Either receiver James Jones made the wrong adjustment on the route or Rodgers made a bad read, McCarthy said, but in any case it was a bright-light moment for Ross.
After that, on two additional drives, Rodgers and Co. moved the ball pretty well.
Running back James Starks continued to stand out with a pair of runs covering 11 and 9 yards. Also, rookie receiver Randall Cobb (pictured) made another highlight-reel play as Rodgers took advantage of a defensive offside and fired deep down the left side to Cobb for a 40-yard gain.
“When they jump offside, we just run all go’s,” Cobb said. “Aaron threw the ball and I had to make a play on it and try to keep the sticks moving. We had the penalty, but it’s always better to get extra yards.”
On the play, Cobb stopped his deep route and came back nicely for the ball, catching it cleanly and making a strong inside move into the open field. His hands looked as natural snagging that pass as they have fielding punts and kickoffs, prompting McCarthy to say afterward that Cobb’s ball skills remind him of Charles Woodson’s.
“It’s very natural to him,” McCarthy said. “It’s effortless. There’s no struggle. He’s been doing it a long time. He has exceptional ball skills.”
On his final drive, Rodgers spread the ball around. Flushed from the pocket, he hit Brett Swain along the boundary for 8 yards to convert a third down. He then hit Chastin West for 15 yards and made up for the earlier miscue with Jones to pick up 21 yards. That set up a slick 5-yard fade to Jordy Nelson for a touchdown.
It was the kind of play Rodgers is starting to make look easy, but cornerback Josh Gordy was in good position on Nelson and forced that throw to be in just the right spot.
“Aaron put it in the back corner and I was able to get to it,” Nelson said. “There wasn’t anything special about it. We were just able to connect.”
The players now get to disconnect for a day or so before returning to their camp routine on Monday, which will feature the first of four consecutive evening practices before the team travels to the White House on Friday and then on to Cleveland for the first preseason game.
“We have a lot of work to do,” McCarthy said. “You’re probably tired of hearing me say it, but it’s where we are as a team, and we’ll continue to work through it. We’ll be ready to go when we hit Cleveland.”
Injury update: The only injury to occur during the shortened practice was to safety Brandon Underwood, who went down at the end of a 5-yard run by Ryan Grant. McCarthy said Underwood’s injury was above his knee, but he didn’t know whether it was a quadriceps or hamstring.
Eleven players sat out the practice. Previously injured were cornerback Davon House (hamstring), cornerback Tramon Williams (hip), linebacker Diyral Briggs (hamstring), guard Adrian Battles (Achilles), defensive end Eli Joseph (hamstring), receiver Greg Jennings (hip flexor) and defensive end Lawrence Guy (concussion).
Cornerback Charles Woodson and tight end Jermichael Finley did not suit up, but McCarthy did not mention any injuries to them. Linebacker Clay Matthews “tweaked his glute,” McCarthy said, adding that he hopes Matthews will be able to practice on Monday. Kicker Mason Crosby was on the field but did not kick during the workout due to an ankle injury.