GREEN BAY – As training camp opens in 2017, Mike McCarthy certainly hopes there’s some carry-over from the Packers’ eight-game winning streak that sent them to the NFC title game last season.
But he’s not counting on it.
“You have to watch that. I think that falls into the category of complacency,” McCarthy said Wednesday, one day before Green Bay’s first practice, of the potential trap of believing a team can pick up where it left off.
“But with that, you have those lessons. Those elements are still part of your locker room. You work to put that all together again.”
The work is done with knowledge there are no guarantees as a new season dawns.
“That’s why I stay focused on the grind,” McCarthy said. “Every team is different. The thresholds are going to be different. Hopefully the injuries are not a huge factor, but it’s part of the game. All those variables, you just fight through them.”
Perhaps the most poignant lesson from 2016 was continuing to fight. With their backs against the wall at 4-6, the Packers came one game away from the Super Bowl. McCarthy repeatedly complimented last year’s players for their work ethic and commitment, traits that must remain. They earned their eighth straight playoff appearance, one shy of the league record shared by Dallas (1975-83) and Indianapolis (2002-10).
McCarthy said he hasn’t given the streak much thought, other than it representing the “program” he’s put in place, a program built on drafting and developing players, and training them in ways readily adjusted to reflect modern research.
With the first practice less than 24 hours away, players were going through physicals and conditioning tests Wednesday, and McCarthy said a medical update would be provided Thursday morning. He also suggested some points of emphasis for this year’s camp.
Once the pads go on Saturday (the third day, per CBA rules), the running game that was put on the back-burner during non-padded OTAs will move to the forefront, particularly with a first-year full-time starter at running back in Ty Montgomery and three rookie draft picks working behind him.
Special teams also will get due attention, with undrafted rookies at both punter and long-snapper, and the return jobs seemingly up for grabs.
“We’re very green there, and I’m not talking about the colors of our uniform,” McCarthy said. “We have a lot of work to do. That’s definitely a focus.”
A lot of energy will be expended on the first eight workouts, which will coincide with the review of the playbook installations introduced during OTAs. The Packers open with five morning practices before switching to evening for the next three, concluding with Family Night on Aug. 5.
The Packers won’t have that long a concentration on both fundamental drills and scheme work again for the rest of the year, so its importance is heightened.
There’s no waiting around for young players to mentally catch up, either. Learning was for OTAs.
“The educational period is over, in my view,” McCarthy said. “If we have a player that when we get together tonight and start talking about install No. 1, and he doesn’t know his assignments already, he’s in trouble. He’s going to have a very difficult time competing.
“That’s really the beauty of May, June and July. We put a lot into those meetings, the walk-throughs. I feel very good about where they are, what they have to do, and this is the time to work on how you do it, make sure it’s clear why we’re doing it, and getting in sync with the guy next to you.”
In other words, it’s go time.
“We’ll hit the field running tomorrow,” McCarthy said. “Exciting time, a lot of energy in the building.”