GREEN BAY – The Packers won’t be holding back on offense in this training camp.
With all the starters and top reserves returning, the offense expects the playbook installations to go at a fast pace, and that began on Thursday morning with an opening workout whose tempo pleased Head Coach Mike McCarthy.
“It’s huge,” Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton said of having everybody back. “Whereas in the past, maybe it takes a few weeks to get rolling, now we can jump in day one and we know each other and we start rolling right away.
“We’ve got a core group of guys who have been here awhile, and you can tell.”
In some of the first 11-on-11 drills of camp, quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit receiver Myles White deep over the middle for a big gain. Randall Cobb made a nice diving grab on a third-and-long crossing route.
Even Jordy Nelson looked no worse for wear after sitting out all of OTAs and minicamp following hip surgery. Nelson earned some loud cheers from the Nitschke Field crowd for his catches, confirming McCarthy’s assessment that “he hasn’t missed a beat.”
I felt good out there,” Nelson said. “I want to get out there, run some routes, get back in the groove with things and get back into the chemistry with Aaron.”
Nelson doesn’t believe that will take long at all. He emphasized the veterans are focused on the little things, while the younger players will concentrate on learning the playbook and staying up to speed.
The vets are charged with assisting in that regard, but when the entire first unit is on the field, the goal is simple.
“Play fast,” running back Eddie Lacy said. “We’ve been together last year, and some guys the year before that. We’re comfortable with each other, we know each other, we have the timing down. So just play faster and play smarter.”
It wasn’t a flawless workout, as McCarthy lamented a high number of pre-snap penalties. Second-year receiver Jared Abbrederis bowed out with an injury following an interception by undrafted rookie cornerback LaDarius Gunter.
Otherwise, the team’s health is in good order. In addition to Nelson, cornerback Casey Hayward, outside linebackers Nick Perry and Andy Mulumba and defensive lineman Josh Boyd all practiced after missing time in the spring.
Outside linebacker Mike Neal is not yet ready, though, while rookie running back John Crockett’s ankle injury from minicamp is not healed. Rookie receiver Ricky Collins also sat out, as did second-round draft pick and cornerback Quinten Rollins, who said he tweaked a hamstring while working out on his own a couple of weeks ago.
He’s missing the start of a cornerback competition that was in full swing right away, with Gunter and Micah Hyde snagging interceptions on the first day.
“There are a lot of guys competing, at safety and at corner, all the DBs,” said Hyde, who is playing both positions. “But it’s exciting. The coaches are rotating guys, seeing what guys can do. Young guys are stepping up, and we’ll see how they progress later on in training camp.”
They’ll face plenty of challenges from an offense that appears ready to hit the ground running. Perhaps that side of the ball will be the key to avoiding a fourth straight 1-2 start in September, when early losses have factored into going on the road come the postseason.
Rodgers even made reference on Thursday to “how difficult it is becoming to play at Lambeau” and how he’d “love to have that championship game in Lambeau next year.”
A fast start won’t guarantee that by any stretch, but it’ll help set up the opportunity.
“We have high expectations for ourselves, and we push each other to be great,” Rodgers said. “I think it starts in training camp when the chemistry is coming together, the team is coming together, and you start to figure out who the key players are going to be.
“We’ve got the team that we want.”