Mike McCarthy opened his 11th training camp as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers on Monday, and yet for him the excitement within the building and around the team was just as special as his first.
“This is exciting,” McCarthy said during a late morning press conference. “We’re talking about the National Football League here. The Green Bay Packers. This is a group – from coaching, support staff and most of all the players – we’re excited to get going. We really like the opportunity in front of us.”
The Packers enter camp among the favorites to make it to Super Bowl LI in Houston, Texas. And for them to live up to those expectations, they’ll need quarterback Aaron Rodgers to bounce back from what was a subpar season by his standards. While most any team in the league would take a quarterback that threw 31 touchdowns and just eight interceptions with a passer rating of 93.1, those numbers won’t do for the two-time Most Valuable Player.
Rodgers talked this offseason about living a healthier lifestyle and eating better, which he was hoping would leave him in better shape to endure a grueling 16-game schedule injury free – something that hasn’t happened in any of the last three seasons.
“Aaron’s vibe, and really his offseason participation and performance, looks to line-up for a great year,” McCarthy said. “He’s in great shape. I would say this is the best shape I’ve seen him in.
“He’s excited to get started.”
So, too, is Jordy Nelson. The wide receiver missed the entire 2015 season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a preseason game last August. Despite his assurances that he would be ready to go in time for training camp, it’s unclear if that’ll be the case. McCarthy wouldn’t comment on what players would or wouldn’t be able to take the field for the first practice on Tuesday, saying only that he had yet to speak with the trainers.
Nelson’s return is critical for an offense that faltered last season without him, going from a top 10 group in the league in 2014 to being a unit rated No. 23 in total offense in 2015. McCarthy, though, says having Nelson right away isn’t necessarily a must.
“I think we’re all confident – Aaron and Jordy included – that they’re going to get it back,” McCarthy said of the tandem. “It’s just a matter of getting back out on the field and getting reps. You’re talking about two players that have thousands of reps invested in their time together. I have great confidence they’ll get that back.”
McCarthy also took a look in the mirror when it came to the offensive inefficiencies from a year ago. After calling the offensive plays for the first nine years of his time in Green Bay, McCarthy gave that duty to associate head coach Tom Clements last year. When the struggles happened, he took the play-calling duties back in December. That didn’t solve the issues, so McCarthy broke it down in the offseason.
“Like anything in life, when it doesn’t go the way you anticipate it should go, or it doesn’t hit the standard you’re accustomed to, you have to go back and take a hard look at it. And we definitely did that,” McCarthy said. “I know more times than not my natural reaction is to go back to the basics, and that’s really what we’ve done as an offensive staff, and I think our players echo that.”
The Packers weren’t the only ones to report to training camp in Green Bay on Monday. So too did NFL investigators that are expected to meet with linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers over accusations stemming from an Al Jazeera article last December that claimed the duo had used performance enhancing drugs. Both players have denied the accusations, that also include former Packers’ defensive end Mike Neal and Pittsburgh Steelers’ outside linebacker James Harrison.
For his part, McCarthy said he hasn’t spoken with the duo recently but that he wasn’t concerned that the investigation could be a distraction or an issue moving forward.
“I have no reason to be concerned based on the conversations I’ve been a part of,” McCarthy said.