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By CHRIS HAVEL
Leap from Year 1 to Year 2 critical in Green Bay’s draft-develop philosophy
Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy isn’t lacking for thoughtful messages and willing listeners.
His audience includes his staff, which helps relay it to the players, and then the media which passes it on to the fans.
In the first OTA open to the public and media, McCarthy’s message regarding Clay Matthews’ role was laid out by the head coach, who proclaimed Matthews a pass rusher.
Matthews backed it by saying he doesn’t care whether he lines up inside or outside, and that in fact he believes he can be even better from various attack points than a year ago.
The message, in part, was that:
- Matthews and the head coach are seeing eye-to-eye on this.
- The Packers didn’t draft an inside linebacker until Michigan’s Jake Ryan in the fourth round because Matthews was going to be playing inside at times.
- The second OTA’s over-arching theme keyed on leaders and leadership.
McCarthy spoke of the importance for veteran players to help the younger players take that next step. He talked of how the process had been, in a sense, flip-flopped from in the past. Instead of position groups learning at the new players’ pace, veteran players are more actively helping the assistants get them ready to contribute.
The Packers remain a young team by NFL standards, but actually are set in most key areas with the real questions involving third- and fourth-line players in the depth chart.
The leadership talk began the process of thinking in terms of championships, which the Packers clearly are almost to a man. It is more likely than not that during an interview a player will mention “Super Bowl 50” or “winning it all” or “being a champion.”
It is woven into the culture at 1265. The goal is to win the Super Bowl.
The Packers believe they have the coach and the quarterback. McCarthy certainly believes he has the staff. He said so last week, when he called it, “The best staff” that he’s been part of since he’s been the head coach.
That’s saying a mouthful, considering McCarthy won Super Bowl XXXLV and came within a whisker from leading his team into the NFL’s marquee event last year.
Then, the Packers held OTA #3 last week.
It was the final OTA session open to the public and media. With upcoming mini-camps and training camp it is scarcely the final word. However, it was interesting how McCarthy wrapped it.
The Packers’ head coach spoke at length about the importance of players making a leap from Year 1 to Year 2. He even expanded the notion to include Year 2 to Year 3.
His point and that week’s theme was clear: This team is talented enough to win a title, but only if the players continue to improve, and that’s especially true of the young players.
Consider how well the Packers’ rookies and first-year players performed last year. On offense, receiver DaVante Adams developed into a legitimate No. 3 wide-out. He is showing all signs of making the Packers’ receiver corps a three-headed monster, perhaps the NFL’s finest trio.
Richard Rodgers, a third-round pick at tight end, flashed early and often in training camp. Then, he seemed to hit a wall early to midway through the season. In part, it appeared that he simply wasn’t physically strong enough to stand up against the NFL’s biggest, baddest defensive end and outside linebackers.
The good news is that Rodgers caught his second wind some time after the bye week and took his game up a notch. Rodgers was a viable threat at tight end by season’s end. If he can elevate along that same path this season, the Packers’ reasoning behind not drafting a tight end until the 7th round makes more sense.
Corey Linsley, the starting center, played so well that it’s difficult to imagine his game being much better. However, Linsley can improve in terms of getting off linemen and locking onto linebackers (in the second level) downfield. Linsley is darn good, though, and a blessing.
Defensively, look for Mike Pennel, a big, nasty nose tackle (is that ambiguous?) has a chance to contribute. Also, Carl Bradford, Jayrone Elliott and third-year man Sam Barrington also need to step it up a notch or three.
Cornerback Demetri Goodson’s greatest contributions – and they are very important – must come on special teams. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix returns as the pre-eminent safety. Expect Clinton-Dix to develop into a perennial All-Pro.
If all or most of this happens, and there are solid reasons to believe it could shake out that way, the Packers are sittin’ pretty.
Somehow, though, I doubt “we’re sittin’ pretty” will be McCarthy’s theme come mini-camp.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and 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’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.