GREEN BAY, Wis. — The first Packers minicamp session wasn’t necessarily a good practice, but it’s the best coach Mike McCarthy was able to have given the circumstances of the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement.
“I think that this transition into the new CBA environment that we’re in, just riding up in the car with (Packers PR staffer) Jason (Wahlers). And he said, ‘Good practice.’ ” McCarthy said at his Tuesday press conference. “I said, ‘Good CBA practice.’ It’s a transition. It is a learning phase.”
The issue is McCarthy doesn’t want the Packers to end up in a similar situation as the Seattle Seahawks. Last week, Seattle was found to have violated the NFL’s rules about engaging in live contact during an offseason practice session. As a result, the Seahawks had to forfeit three practice sessions.
However, it’s not completely clear to McCarthy what constitutes “live contact” and how that is different from allowable contact. With the players in helmets but no pads, there is some contact happening during practice. But so far, McCarthy and his staff apparently have kept things within the rules.
“Frankly, I don’t know what the line is,” McCarthy said. “I don’t care what the rules are — I don’t care if it’s a padded practice, a shell practice or even a jog-through — you have new members who come into your program and they don’t know how to practice yet. Everybody doesn’t do it the same way.
“So to have collisions that are unnecessary, you have different tempos. I’m sure we relate to any other football team. The first two weeks or so, you do a lot. We have different tempos going on. It’s like anything else. You have to coach it, go through it.
The last two weeks, we’re practicing the way — I don’t want to say you’re ‘supposed’ to practice — but we’re practicing the way we needed.”
It’s unknown how exactly the NFL was alerted to the wrongdoings in Seattle, but each team’s offseason practice sessions are videotaped and reviewed to ensure that CBA policies are being followed. If a complaint is issued, the practice tapes need to be made available for review by the league and the Players Association.
New Packers center Jeff Saturday — a 14-year NFL veteran — is a member of the Players Association’s executive committee and was one of the key negotiators in completing the now year-old CBA. But even he isn’t quite sure where the line is drawn between allowable contact and a punishable violation.
“I don’t know that we’re necessarily as clear on everything that we need to be,” Saturday said in the locker room after practice. “It’s the first year we’re really doing it, so I think everybody’s trying to get adjusted. We’ll work on it as years progress, but it’s the first year for everything. I think everybody’s trying to get accustomed to it.”
If Saturday and McCarthy are both unsure, it makes the ruling in Seattle a bit more confusing and one that has the Packers questioning how hard they can go at it in offseason training activities and minicamp practices.
“It is definitely a very gray area, and I think it’s been difficult for all of us,” Saturday said. “When it’s written in legalese, it’s totally different than what you do on the field. It’s very hard to know what is crossing the line, what’s too much, what’s too little.
“I think you kind of put coaches out in an area where it’s very uncomfortable for those guys, and for a guy like me it’s very uncomfortable, because I have guys coming to me, asking me, you don’t really know a definitive answer.
“So we’re trying to figure it out, we’re trying to progress this thing along, and when you have to make adjustments, you have to. And as a team, you’ve just got to be able to make those adjustments on the fly.”
Saturday attempted to further explain his best understanding of where exactly the line is drawn.
“I think from the conversations I’m getting from the Players Association, it’s, once a guy gets into each other, they kind of need to settle down, turn and run,” Saturday said. “There shouldn’t be any finishing of guys, guys shouldn’t be on the ground, you should fit up like you’re going to fit up, know how to protect each other and then move.
“It should be mimicking, it shouldn’t be a bunch of power-type stuff. Guys shouldn’t get moved out or pushed around or thrown down. I think those are the things we’ve got to pick up. And for football players, when you put the helmet on, it’s tough to control that.
“You get in this competitive mode, so from our standpoint, we’ve got to learn to limit the competition to protect our guys. We’re all going to be one team here shortly, and we’ve got a long road to hoe, so we’ve got to make sure we’re taking care of our guys.”
While veterans like Saturday and cornerback Charles Woodson may have a relatively good understanding of what they can and can’t do, the younger fringe players trying to make the team are in a very difficult position. They don’t want to go too hard and get themselves and the team in trouble, but they also don’t want to go too soft, fearing the coaching staff may look at them as timid.
“When you’re fighting for a job, you’re scared to death of not taking it to that line,” Saturday said. “So I think from the Players Association perspective, they need to draw the line and let the coaches know, ‘Hey, this is enough, this is too much, you can go up to here,’ so everybody is clear.
“And I think the PA now, they’re taking trips, they’re getting on people’s practice fields to really be able to give those coaches feedback of what we’re doing right and what we need to improve.”