Practicing together for the first time since their upset playoff loss, Green Bay Packers players agreed on one thing: It was nice to be back on a football field again.
"It's been a long time off, especially the way in which we ended the season," three-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews said Tuesday of the 128 days since the team's 37-20 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants. "But it's good to be back out here with the team, working toward a new season."
Added quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL's reigning MVP: "It's good to be back with the guys. A lot of energy, a lot of new guys, new faces. It was fun. It's good to be back in the schedule. It's nice to be off, but there's something to be said about structure, and it's good to be back."
In their first practice of the organized team activities phase of the offseason program - something that was wiped out by last year's lockout - the Packers welcomed some new faces while putting others - including Matthews - in new places.
Having drafted six defensive players with their first six selections in the draft, the team had five of those players taking part in practice. First-round pick Nick Perry got extensive work at left outside linebacker with the No. 1 defense and defensive lineman Jerel Worthy, the first of the team's two second-round picks, worked with the No. 1 nickel unit. He got plenty of action in the base defense, too.
With Perry working on the left side, as he did in the post-draft rookie orientation camp, Matthews shifted to the right outside linebacker spot he played as a rookie in 2009. He has spent the past two seasons on the left side.
Meanwhile, five-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, the team's biggest free-agent signing in years, and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, one of the players embroiled in the New Orleans Saints bounties scandal, both practiced for the first time with their new teams.
"I feel a little bit like a rookie. I'm in the (play) book a lot more than I've ever been, or at least the since the '90s. That's quite a while," the soon-to-be 37-year-old Saturday said. "It's fun, too. It kind of refreshes you. Obviously I haven't got the whole thing figured out Day 1, so it's going to take me some time."
Hargrove was suspended on May 2 for the season's first eight games by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He has appealed the ruling and did not want to discuss his suspension or the declaration he signed on April 13 that said Saints coaches Gregg Williams and Joe Vitt told him to lie to NFL investigators.
Hargrove said has "been very joyous" and "at peace throughout this entire process."
"In this business, you're always supposed to do what your coaches tell you to do. And my response was what it was," Hargrove said. "Everything that I gave in that declaration outlines exactly what happened then. My coaches ask me to do something, I'll do it. It's the same way I'm going to be here. Coach (Capers) asks me to go out and get the quarterback, I'm going to go get the quarterback. That's just my responsibility as a player."
Coach Mike McCarthy told players in the team meeting that the group has the most experience and most talent he's had since taking over in 2006.
"It's going to be very competitive," he said.
Rodgers noted that there is a lot of time before training camp, much less the season.
"As opposed to last year, without this kind of time, I think it's going to help some of the young guys to be a little more involved in the playbook during this time," he said. "But for us veterans, it's just a good time to get our timing back and kind of sit back and see what the team's going to look like."
Meanwhile, there is still that loss to the Giants lingering, the one that rendered an impressive 15-1 record - the most victories in a season in team history - meaningless. While Rodgers said the loss is "long since forgotten," a few of his teammates still haven't gotten over it.
"It's still with me. I'm real sour about it still," veteran defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. "You just use it as motivation to work hard and get ready. We just came up short so we've got to work. We've got to work to get this taste out of our mouth."
Follow Associated Press writer Chris Jenkins on Twitter at twitter.com/ByChrisJenkins.