It finally looked and sounded like football today. The Packers donned the pads for the first time since the sad playoff exit at Lambeau thanks to the 49ers last January. The practice covered nearly two and a half hours and several lively team periods. After the workout, Head Coach Mike McCarthy was asked for his impressions:
Audio: Mike McCarthy
The players were about as enthusiastic. Veteran guard Josh Sitton was asked if it was fun to hit again. "Fun" was a little strong according to Josh but it's all part of life in the NFL:
Audio: Josh Sitton
The best news post practice was that the team got through it without anybody getting nicked up. There weren't any bone jarring hits but in a couple of drills, the thumping of pads was noticeable. The team ran only a handful of short side run plays where half of an offensive line goes against linemen and two linebackers on a run play. The one on one pass blocking drills, highlighted in the lead photo had some good battles. Bryan Bulaga handled Julius Peppers on the blog cover shot. Even Derek Sherrod had a noteworthy rep, neutralizing the patented spin move of Clay Matthews. In team periods, tight ends made the eye popping catches. Rookie Richard Rodgers had a nice grab in traffic and Jake Stoneburner hauled in a beauty one handed down the seam. The defensive highlight was safety Sean Richardson banging through Jordy Nelson on a crossing route thrown by Aaron Rodgers and literally pulling it out of Jordy's hands for a pick.
Aside from the team work which covered blitz packages and no huddle offense, the team split into fundamental work by position, like this tug of war ball security drill for the running backs.
You can see linebacker Mike Neal to the right. He continues to sit because of what's been called a "core" injury. Neal knows he has missed plenty of time since joining the Packers five years ago. He said after practice the injury is due partly to losing 15 pounds in the off-season, down to about 265, so he can better handle his new role as an outside linebacker. Neal said the training staff has told him to take it slowly, knowing he's needed for 16 weeks down the road, not the first week of camp. There wasn't any change to the rest of the injury list as Letroy Guion, Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, and rookie receiver Jeff Janis were still out today.
We almost had our first scuffle of camp on the opening day in pads. During the no-huddle drill, Datone Jones started tangling with Don Barclay after a play and when it didn't subside quickly enough, McCarthy stepped in at full volume. He ordered Jones to the sidelines, not so much for the scuffle which he simply called "part of football" after practice, but because he was slowing down the entire point of the no huddle drill.
Johnathan Franklin was back on the sidelines. Last year's draft pick out of UCLA was forced to retire earlier this summer after suffering a career ending neck injury returning a kickoff against the Vikings. Franklin told me he's going to intern with the team in a still to be defined role. He was happy to be back in Green Bay and he's also accepted his sad fate, a career that ended before it barely began. A devout Christian, Franklin said he'll know soon what God's next plan for his life will be.
The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association was also assembled on the sidelines for practice. The collection of terrific men who coached high school and college football, and in some cases, still do, get together once a year to attend practice, visit with the Packers staff and attend a luncheon inside the Lambeau Field atrium. It was nice to visit with a lot of familiar faces like Ron Miller, Dick Heiptas, Mike Williquette, Phil Morgan and Bill Collar.
Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the players already get a mandatory day off Tuesday, after just two workouts in shells and one in pads. I'll tell you what, Forrest Gregg must be pulling his hair out.