GREEN BAY – Packers coach Mike McCarthy seemed pleased with his players’ progress during this past weekend’s three-day rookie camp.
McCarthy especially liked what he saw in Sunday’s final gathering.
“Today was our best practice,” McCarthy told reporters afterward. “The tempo was the best we had of the three. I really felt the practice environment for the team as a whole got better through the weekend. That’s a credit to the players and a credit to our coaches.”
McCarthy said his team “actually finished a little ahead of schedule” coming off the practice field.
“I don’t think that’s ever happened for a rookie orientation camp,” he said. “They were flying around (Sunday).”
The three-day camp included eight draft picks, 14 undrafted free agents and 29 tryout players. McCarthy and General Manager Ted Thompson met immediately after the final practice to begin determining which of the tryout players would fill the final four spots on the 90-man roster.
McCarthy’s desire to get his young players up to speed as quickly as possible is twofold: It hastens the young players’ development, and it allows the veterans to hit the field running when voluntary OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) begin May 22.
The Packers had a league-high number of rookies and first-year players on their roster last season, according to the team.
“The way our program is designed tells you how we feel about young players,” McCarthy said. “We’ve been a draft-and-develop program going on Year Seven now. It’s a young man’s league, in my opinion. I think that’s a trend that potentially is only going to pick up, so it would not surprise me if you continue to see those numbers.”
So where on a team coming off a 15-1 season do young players have the best shot to stick? Opportunity exists in the receiving corps, to be sure, as well as along the offensive line and in each of the three levels (defensive line, linebacker and secondary) on the defense.
At receiver, Donald Driver appears to be the most vulnerable.
Driver enters his 14th season playing a position not known for its longevity. Whether he fends off young wideouts such as Tori Gurley and/or Diondre Borel remains to be seen. Typically, an aging veteran must be clearly better – rather than the equal of – a possible successor.
Thus far, Driver has been able to prevail over all comers, but that may change for the wildly popular “Dancing With The Stars” contestant.
“Gurley and Borel stood out and that’s what you expect,” McCarthy said. “It’s a camp that you don’t have a lot of contact. You look for their skill set, what they bring to the table, how they fit, the potential for a roster spot. There are definitely a few guys that’ll have a chance to stay.”
Offensive line depth is critical. Florida State’s Andrew Datko seems a strong candidate for the 2012 practice squad, but it’s still early.
Defensively, the top three picks (linebacker Nick Perry, defensive lineman Jerel Worthy and cornerback Casey Hayward) are in position to earn significant roles and playing time.
Who stays and who goes remains to be seen, but McCarthy takes pains not to prejudice himself. It is a wise course. All too often factors such as injuries can transform a position of great depth into a position of need.
“I don’t concern myself with (roster spots) in May,” he said. “Create the competition and your roster will come to you. I don’t chase roster moves in May and June. I don’t ever try to pick the team this early.”
Indeed, it isn’t for the head coach to chase roster spots this early.
That concern is left to the Donald Drivers of the team, and the young players who dream of supplanting them.
Chris Havel is a Packers News expert and national best-selling author. His latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ Player Autograph Parties the evening before home games.