Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin didn’t want to jinx anything when he met with reporters a couple of days before the start of training camp, but he pointed out that the Green Bay Packers’ running backs hadn’t fumbled in more than two years.
That streak remains intact, obviously, but Monday night’s practice in the Don Hutson Center wasn’t pretty in the eyes of offensive-minded head coach Mike McCarthy.
During a four-minute drill, with the No. 1 offense backed up near its goal line and trying to run out the clock while nursing a six-point lead against the No. 1 defense, Ryan Grant and James Starks fumbled away the ball in the span of three plays. Given the situation being practiced, blunders like those would have cost the Packers the game — or won the game, if looking at it from the defense’s perspective.
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Earlier in practice, rookie running back Alex Green had the ball stripped in a ball-security drill, and Starks and Rodgers botched a handoff at another point. There also were too many false starts, a couple of botched shotgun snaps and an uncharacteristic dropped pass in the end zone by Jermichael Finley.
“We look great on paper, there’s no doubt about it,” McCarthy said after practice. “But we’re not close to where we need to be as a football team. We realize that. We have a lot of work to do. I’m not going to throw out any bouquets tonight.”
“Yes, we’re very talented. We’ve got players that have done a lot here in the past. It’s exciting when you can put that many skill position players on the field. But the reality is if you don’t take care of the football, and you don’t take the football away, if you don’t tackle, break tackles, don’t make blocks, don’t get off blocks, don’t handle the adjustments that the defense gives you and so forth on offense and all the way through special teams, it doesn’t make for very fundamental football. We have to step it up in the area of fundamentals.”
Monday’s practice was right in line with the rest of training camp. None of which should be surprising considering the lockout took away five weeks of on-the-field practices — not that McCarthy is looking for excuses.
“It’s important for everybody to mentally tighten it down,” he said. “We’ve had more mental errors this year than we’ve had in the past. That’s probably true around the league, but we don’t really care about the league. We have a standard here and we’re pushing to get that standard. Fully confident that we’ll get there. Pre-snap penalties and not taking care of the football — that’s a bad day.”
McCarthy said he’s “hopeful” that kicker Mason Crosby will be available for Saturday’s preseason opener at Cleveland. Crosby sprained an ankle during Friday’s practice and did not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Tackle Marshall Newhouse, who has been one of the standouts of camp, dropped out of Monday’s practice with a shoulder sprain, and safety Brandon Underwood, who suffered a sprained knee on Saturday, will be out for a couple of weeks.
“He’s done some good things,” McCarthy said of Newhouse. “He’s definitely made a step in his strength and conditioning area this year, compared to last year. He is comfortable in the footwork. I see an improvement there. But just like anybody else, the availability of your team is the most important aspect going into a season. That’s something they’re told from Day 1 – availability and accountability. So, Marshall’s doing well. Hopefully, it’s not a serious shoulder injury.”
Still out: cornerback Davon House (hamstring), linebacker Cardia Jackson (unknown), linebacker Diryal Briggs (hamstring), linemen Adrian Battles (Achilles) and Chris Campbell (unknown) and nose tackle Eli Joseph (hamstring and hip flexor).
Back in action: Cornerback Tramon Williams (hip), linebacker Clay Matthews (glute), tackle Theo Sherman (ankle), defensive end Lawrence Guy (concussion).
— With some showers before practice, the workout was moved inside the Don Hutson Center. “There’s nothing we did not have scheduled that we had to take out because of moving inside the Hutson Center,” McCarthy said. “Really, the people you worry about is the fans because we don’t have a whole lot of room to get the fans in there. We’re fortunate with the two fields. It works out fine.”
— Because teams can only spend a certain amount of time on the field each day, McCarthy ended a red-zone period about 5 minutes early and wound up scrapping a goal-line period.
— After shanking a punt, Tim Masthay responded with blasts of 66, 61 and 57 yards.
— Undrafted rookie Brandian Ross, whose interception and touchdown was the highlight of the scrimmage, appears to have — at least — closed the gap with Pat Lee at cornerback. At a couple of points, Ross worked with the No. 1 nickel, joining cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.