Packers: Mike McCarthy tinkers with offense as organized team activities begin
GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy enjoyed letting his football play-designing imagination run wild. Now it’s time to start converting those ideas into action.
Ever since those two back-to-back days in mid-March when the Green Bay Packers added two play-making tight ends, the Packers longtime coach and offensive play-caller had been thinking about the possibilities.
Not only was he adding Martellus Bennett and former University of Wisconsin star Lance Kendricks to a tight end group that already had one player he really liked (Richard Rodgers), but McCarthy also knew he had a host of wide receiver talent (led by Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams) and a Swiss Army knife lead running back (converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery) returning as well.
Oh, and he still has two-time NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers running the show.
And so McCarthy and his offensive coaching staff got to work, bringing a few two-tight end sets out of mothballs — the Packers’ primary personnel grouping the past few years has been three receivers, one tight end and one back — while also incorporating some new thoughts.
On Monday, the Packers opened Phase III of their offseason program with their first organized team activity practice of the spring. Today’s second OTA practice will be open to the public on Clarke Hinkle Field, giving non-1265 Lombardi Ave. employees their first look at Bennett and Kendricks, along with the three rookie running backs and two rookie wide receivers the team added in last month’s draft.
“Oh, I’m excited,” McCarthy said last week. “No doubt about it.”
Since the Packers’ offense is predicated on taking advantage of matchups and Rodgers judiciously spreading the ball around rather than feeding a specific player, it’s up to McCarthy to design and call plays that share the wealth when it comes to who’s the first, second and third options each time.
“It’s my responsibility. It’s important to make sure you create opportunities for all these guys,” McCarthy said. “(You ask yourself), how can you get Randall the ball a couple more times a game? Those are the things I think about at night — just making sure that our system has something for everybody. Because you need everybody. You need to make sure the right guys are touching the ball as much as possible.”
OTAs allow for true on-field 11-on-11 work — albeit in shorts and helmets, not pads — so McCarthy can see his guys run the plays they’ve been talking about the past few weeks.
In addition to the tight end additions, the Packers will also line up with their reconstituted offensive line, which lost Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang (Detroit) and part-time starting center JC Tretter (Cleveland) in free agency and added right guard Jahri Evans as a free agent right before the draft.
Evans, 33, was a six-time Pro Bowl selection from 2009 through 2014 and is expected to take Lang’s spot. Longtime backup Don Barclay and youngsters Kyle Murphy and Lucas Patrick are also in the mix if time catches up with Evans.
It’s unclear whether starting center Corey Linsley, who had offseason ankle surgery, will be able to do much at OTAs.
Barclay would likely work with the No. 1 line in his place.
“A big part of it is, everything we do, we start up front with the line. I think our depth is outstanding,” McCarthy said. “I really like the personality of the room. Running the football, protecting the quarterback, that’s where it starts. We’ve got to make sure we have all our options in line to take advantage of them.”
The Packers will have two more open OTA workouts (June 1 and 6) and their annual mandatory minicamp (June 13-15) before a six-week break in advance of their July 26 report date for training camp.
While Aaron Rodgers said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach to how the offense will look with the new pieces, he said he likes the idea of utilizing more two tight-end sets. The offensive struggles early last season dissipated when McCarthy moved away from his no-huddle centric approach and started changing up personnel groupings play after play after play. With Bennett and Kendricks, that kind of diversity should remain a key part of the Packers’ approach.