GREEN BAY – Weather delays are nothing new on Family Night, but the hour-long wait before the start of the Packers’ practice on Saturday didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm.
A crowd of 63,156 watched the Packers’ final playbook installation of 2017, and the page turns next week to preparing for the first preseason game, a home contest vs. Philadelphia on Thursday night.
“I just want to thank 63,000 fans plus, incredible atmosphere,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said afterward, before the annual fireworks and laser show concluded the evening.
“I feel good about where the team is. Hopefully we come out of this first part healthy.”
One player did leave the field with an injury, undrafted rookie receiver Colby Pearson. He appeared to twist an ankle when he landed after catching a 19-yard back-shoulder throw from Brett Hundley in the two-minute drill.
Two plays later, Hundley found another undrafted rookie, tight end Aaron Peck, for a 13-yard touchdown to cap off the 65-yard drive. Peck then headed for the south end zone stands at the urging of his teammates for the first Lambeau Leap of the night.
“He didn’t know to go and jump in the stands, so I had to go and tell him, because he was about to run back to the sidelines,” Hundley said. “I said, ‘Hey man, this is your one opportunity, get out there and go remember this forever.’”
Hundley’s success made up for a miscue by the No. 1 offense during its two-minute drill, as fullback Aaron Ripkowski fumbled an exchange with QB Aaron Rodgers on the 25-yard line. Clay Matthews recovered for the defense.
Hundley had to complete a fourth-down pass to rookie running back Jamaal Williams near midfield to keep his drive alive, and he managed to finish it off despite a false-start penalty right after Pearson’s catch made it first-and-goal.
“I thought he kept scrapping, kept scrapping. That’s what you have to do,” McCarthy said of Hundley. “He made a play at the end when he needed to.”
The rest of the night didn’t have too many wow moments, but veteran pass-catchers Richard Rodgers and Randall Cobb had productive workouts, inside linebacker Jake Ryan snagged an interception, and outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert showed up in some pass-rush situations.
A lot of looks in the passing game weren’t exactly clean, but McCarthy chalked it up to good preparation for his young quarterbacks for the game action that lies ahead.
“That’s what you need. You have to be able to play through rough situations, because that’s how these preseason games usually go,” McCarthy said. “We coach it that way, and the most important thing for the quarterback is to stay steady and be smart with the football.”
The football action ended with kicker Mason Crosby struggling on field goals. It was the first real high-intensity situation for rookie long-snapper Derek Hart and rookie punter/holder Justin Vogel, and Crosby missed a handful of attempts. He was discussing something with McCarthy on the field immediately afterward.
“Obviously we’ll take a look at that,” McCarthy said. “The operation wasn’t smooth. I think that was obvious. That’s a great training opportunity.”
The Packers have now finished their night practices and revert to midday workouts for the rest of camp. Two practices are open to the public each of the next three weeks, with one final open practice on Aug. 29, two days before the final preseason game.
“These three night practices, this is our toughest stretch from a stress standpoint, workload,” McCarthy said. “I think our guys really hit the target. We’ve got some really good teaching video out of this.
“We’ve got a long way to go.”