GREEN BAY – Tom Clements is the new play-caller for one of the NFL’s elite offenses. How does he improve on last year’s performance, which included No. 1 rankings in four critical statistical categories, including points per game?
“The last couple of years, we haven’t come out of the gate as well as we finished. We want to play at high efficiency from the get-go. That’s the biggest area we want to improve,” Clements said following Tuesday’s minicamp practice.
Two subpar performances in the first three weeks of the season made for a slow start in 2014. Two of those games were on the road, in Seattle and in Detroit. This year, the Packers will open in Chicago, and then host Seattle in the Packers’ home opener.
All of the arrows are pointing due north for the Packers offense. It’s an offense with the league’s best quarterback, two star receivers and one of the league’s premier running backs. Head Coach Mike McCarthy pronounced last year’s offensive line the best he’s coached, and this year’s line appears to be even deeper in talent.
Where can the Packers’ offense improve?
Two positions will be under the microscope in training camp: Backup quarterback and tight end.
“He’s made great progress,” Clements said of quarterback Scott Tolzien, the apparent heir to the departed Matt Flynn’s job. “He’s a gym rat. He’s always thinking about football. He’s been a consistent thrower. He’s had a very good spring.”
At tight end, Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers have earned praise for their play this spring. Quarless is a veteran playing the best football of his career, and Rodgers would seem poised to make the proverbial second-year jump.
“Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless got better as the year went along last year,” Clements said. “They made great strides and both have had good springs. Q made a great play down in the red zone (on Tuesday).”
Special Teams Coordinator Ron Zook and Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers would each seem to have more daunting challenges. Zook’s unit will be under no less of a microscope than Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s, as McCarthy will become the third coach in the special teams room. Capers must find replacements at cornerback and inside linebacker.
“The whole team understands that if the head coach is in there, a precedent is set,” Zook said of McCarthy’s focus on special teams improvement.
“Our philosophy is to play extremely fast and extremely well. Let’s find out what our guys can do and put them in a position to perform,” Zook added.
Zook replaces Shawn Slocum, who was victimized by a special teams meltdown in the NFC title game this past January. All eyes will be on Packers special teams play during the preseason.
“I have a pretty good feel for them,” Zook said of what he’s achieved this spring. “You watch tape with them and they understand what needs to be accomplished.”
The Packers defense needs to reload following the loss of cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency, and the release of starting inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones.
“We’re going to have a number of young players on defense who’ll be unknowns. You see how they respond in games with other teams. We have to get a number of these guys ready to go, because we’ll be counting on them during the season,” Capers said.
The spring season has just one practice remaining, on Thursday.