One relatively quiet change in the new collective bargaining agreement appears to be having a major impact across the league.
The NFL and the players agreed to limit the number of full-contact, padded practices during the regular season. Rather than an unlimited amount of contact, teams are allowed to have only 14 full-contact practices during the season, with 11 of those practices conducted during the first 11 weeks of the season. There is a one-padded-practice-per-week maximum, though teams are allowed a one-week exception in which it can hold two padded practices. The other three padded practices are spread out over the final six weeks.
“Just counting my padded practices, which we have not had to do in the past,” coach Mike McCarthy said when asked how his team has adapted to the change. “In past years, we would go in pads on Wednesdays and Thursdays if our team was healthy. We’re sticking to the new plan, and I’ll give you my opinion when the season’s over.”
Combined with practice limits established for training camp, the limited hitting almost certainly is a factor in the subpar tackling across the league. The Web site ProFootballFocus.com tracks missed tackles. According to their analysis, the Packers have missed 31 tackles in six games, or 6.2 per game. Last season, they missed 106 tackles in 20 games, or 5.3 per game.
The lack of hitting dating to training camp probably is a subtle reason for the league-wide explosion in passing yards, since so much of running the football is based on fundamentals. As a result, teams are running the ball less than ever.
McCarthy has been holding his padded practice on Thursdays.
“Very important to maintain fundamentals, in my opinion,” McCarthy said. “When you take the pads off your football team, that’s the first thing that goes — your fundamentals. So, one-on-one drills with the offensive and defensive linemen was frisky today, and the one-on-ones with the DBs and wide receivers was a good drill. It’s important for us to continue to compete and stay with the individuals in the competitive period doing offense and defense every Thursday and Friday. It just makes for a better practice and keeps us in tune with our fundamentals.”
Packers injury report
Out – LT Chad Clifton (hamstring); DE Mike Neal (knee); OLB Frank Zombo (knee). Did not participate – OLB Jamari Lattimore (shoulder); CB Sam Shields (concussion). Limited – S Morgan Burnett (hand); OLB Clay Matthews (quad); G Josh Sitton (ankle); CB Charles Woodson (foot/knee). Full – TE Andrew Quarless (foot).
McCarthy said Woodson and Matthews were “close” to full participation and took part in team drills.
“It definitely helps them with their assignments and the communication with their teammates,” McCarthy said. “Everybody at this point knows what their assignments are and what they’re supposed to do, but it’s really the tempo and speed of the drills and getting ready to play the game because on Sunday the speed is at a different level. It’s really staying fine tuned. It’s great to have them out there.”
Vikings injury report
Did not participate – S Jamarca Sanford (concussion); C John Sullivan (concussion). Limited – WR Percy Harvin (ribs); LB E.J. Henderson (knee); RT Phil Loadholt (knee); LB Kenny Onatolu (hamstring); CB Antoine Winfield (neck).
Harvin and Loadholt returned on a limited basis after being held out on Wednesday. Loadholt, who would face Matthews, told reporters in Minneapolis that he plans on playing to help protect Christian Ponder in his first NFL start. Winfield, who’s missed the last two games, did some hitting against a sled to see if his neck was fit to play Sunday.
— With Zombo ruled out and Lattimore unlikely to play, undrafted rookie Vic So’oto figures to be on the gameday roster. So’oto had two sacks during the preseason and could provide a spark for a weak pass rush. “Preseason was preseason and it didn’t really count — kind of glorified scrimmages,” So’oto said. “It would be a great thing to finally get in there and get some live reps and try to get after the quarterback.”
— Here’s one thing in common between the teams: The Packers and Vikings are both practicing with crowd noise in what’s typically a split crowd at the Metrodome. “Packer fans in our stadium? Oh, man. I hope we do things as a team where you only hear Vikings fans,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said.
— The Lions tried to bolster their backfield with a trade-deadline deal for Philadelphia’s Ronnie Brown. That trade, however, was scrapped after the player the Lions sent for Brown, running back Jerome Harrison, was diagnosed with a brain tumor during his physical with Philadelphia’s medical staff. Meanwhile, the family of explosive starter Jahvid Best is advising him to sit out the rest of the season after sustaining his second concussion of the season against San Francisco last week. On top of that, powerful second-round draft pick Mikel Leshoure tore his Achilles during training camp. That leaves journeyman Maurice Morris atop the depth chart for Sunday’s key home game against Atlanta.
— The Packers are the favorites to win the Super Bowl, listed at 3-1 by Bodog.com. New England is 4-1, Baltimore 8-1, San Diego and New Orleans 10-1 and Detroit 12-1.
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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.