GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy’s message on the eve of training camp was no different than it was the day after the loss in the NFC title game in Seattle.
The 2014 season is over and done with, and the 2015 season will follow a new path.
“Last year really doesn’t count for anything,” McCarthy said on Wednesday morning, just a few hours after players reported for their physicals and conditioning tests. “People that were here last year will have lessons that will carry further, and we’ll learn from some of the things that we did last year.
“The positives clearly outweigh the negatives, and you try to teach off of those, but you have to go back to camp and start over again.”
The reboot begins Thursday morning with the first practice at Ray Nitschke Field. The initial two workouts will be in shells before the players will don full pads for the first time on Saturday.
McCarthy spoke of the “energy in the building” and the fact that he personally is as excited as he’s ever been for a new season. The Packers return virtually the entire team that came within a few crunch-time mistakes from going to the Super Bowl.
The offense not only features two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers but brings back the entire starting unit, plus its top reserves. One area that has been in flux year to year but is not now is the offensive line, which had only one starter miss one game last season in 18 contests (16 regular season, two playoffs).
“You have to like where we are offensively,” McCarthy said. “Offensive lines that line up and play every snap together are very good. That’s the best offensive line I’ve coached in my time here. I said that last year, and I’m confident the 2015 offensive line will be better than 2014.”
Defensively, one focus of camp will be getting the unit’s young defensive backs – chief among them cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, the top two draft picks – up to speed and ready to play at an NFL level.
The Packers are also young in spots on the defensive front and at tight end, two areas that will have to deal with the pending suspensions of Datone Jones and Letroy Guion, plus potential disciplinary action against Andrew Quarless, at the start of the season.
“There is definitely a percentage of youth that we need to get ready,” McCarthy said. “I thought we hit the targets in the spring. These guys need to have opportunities. Practices are limited, and we don’t have as much practice time as we had in the past. We have to make sure the top of the roster and the bottom of the roster come together as fast as possible.”
The Packers would prefer to avoid another 1-2 start in September, their record after three games each of the last three years. McCarthy said some adjustments have been made to the practice schedule, but no “big wholesale changes.”
Having given up play-calling, McCarthy is still working through his own schedule and how much time he’ll spend with each of the three phases during practice each day. He also wants to spend more time self-scouting and studying analytics to “make sure you are who you think you are,” a phrase he borrowed from mentor Marty Schottenheimer.
McCarthy provided no medical updates, so whether players who missed time in the offseason are fully cleared for practice will become known Thursday morning. Among that group were receiver Jordy Nelson, cornerback Casey Hayward, outside linebackers Nick Perry and Mike Neal, and defensive lineman Josh Boyd.
“The vision is clear,” McCarthy said, reiterating the annual goal of winning a championship. “We have a plan, we’ll work that plan, and our players believe in our plan.
“I love the leadership of our veterans, and I feel strongly this group can be the strongest group of leaders we’ve had in the locker room. That’s what you start with, that’s what you buy into and that’s what you push.”