McCarthy wants Packers to focus on tackling
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As Mike McCarthy begins his seventh season as head coach of the Green Bay Packers, he still feels plenty of excitement when training camp begins. Players return for physicals, team meetings are scheduled and an offseason filled with hard work and strategizing starts being put to good use.
"I'm anxious," McCarthy said Wednesday, one day before the team convenes for practice. "I've stayed in Green Bay the whole summer. This is probably the most prepared I've been for a training camp. I feel that way because I haven't left. It's been good. I've had quality time in my office in the early mornings.
"It's very exciting every year, and being here in Green Bay the whole summer, you could feel the excitement in the building. I felt it a lot more, just being here leading up to camp. So, yes, definitely, I'm excited."
Returning nearly all of their star players, McCarthy's Packers should be in a good position to repeat much of the success they achieved last season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL's reigning Most Valuable Player, is just beginning the prime of his career and has all of his wide receivers back. Despite the defensive woes in Green Bay last season, including a league record for most passing yards allowed in a season, Rodgers and the league's highest-scoring offense more than made up for other shortcomings.
But a 15-1 regular-season record – featuring the most wins in Packers franchise history -- was not enough to avoid a disastrous playoff performance at home against the New York Giants, resulting in an early postseason exit and a missed opportunity to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
"It's the goal to be a better team this year, regardless of the record, and the goal is to win the Super Bowl," McCarthy said. "But 15-1, I think everybody would be happy with 15-1 during the regular season. But as we all know, postseason is what counts."
The defensive struggles last season started with an offseason decision to not re-sign defensive end Cullen Jenkins. Then injuries began to pile up immediately. In Week 1, cornerback Tramon Williams suffered a shoulder injury that impacted his performance all season. In Week 2, three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins was carted off the field with a neck injury. Collins' injury was so serious that he was released by the Packers this offseason, and he has not yet been able to convince another NFL team to take a chance that his neck can withstand a football career.
All of this led to Green Bay slipping from second in the league in sacks in 2010 to 27th last season. Though Collins is gone and Williams' shoulder may never be quite the same, Green Bay added defensive players with its first six draft picks this offseason. Outside linebacker Nick Perry was brought in with the first-round pick to team him up with Clay Matthews and start getting after quarterbacks again. Defensive lineman Jerel Worthy was added in the second round to help nose tackle B.J. Raji create a bigger push up front, and cornerback Casey Hayward was drafted with an additional second-round pick to help in the secondary.
"We need to play better on defense in certain areas," McCarthy said. "Our focus is to continue to build off the things that we do very well and obviously improve on the things that didn't go so well in the past. It's clearly a different defense.
"It's important for us to stay in tune with the fundamentals. We'll start with the fundamentals in the first meeting today. I feel that we emphasize it as much as we possibly can and we're going to do it more than we've done it in the past.
"I know there's excitement in the locker room because there's some talented individuals that we brought into our program. It'll be exciting to see them in pads."
McCarthy mentioned on several occasions last season and this offseason that the team's tackling also needs to improve, so it will be a primary focus early in training camp.
"We'll just do a more in-depth job of detailing the pursuit angles and all the things that lead to putting yourself in the best position to tackle," McCarthy said. "Our problem isn't tackling a guy to the ground. I'm sure that's something that people may be looking for. There is a risk assessment that you take into consideration when you put together these type of tackling drills.
"The most important part, we need to do a better job of trying on the ball and having proper angles and getting more hats on the ball. Those are the types of things that we'll focus on."
The Packers begin training camp at 8:15 a.m. Thursday.
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