Kickoff'11: Saints' offseason 'advantage'

You were off at the cabin, getting a final trip in to the pool or knee-deep in your fantasy draft. I was outside enjoying a few moments of fall-like temperatures here in the Upper Midwest. The Green Bay Packers, however, were on the practice field Sunday to begin earnest preparations for their fast-approaching season-opener against the New Orleans Saints.

That's right. Week 1 has started here in the NFC North, and the Packers will play a game that counts in about 96 hours or so. I'll have a dedicated game post each day of the week, marked by the "Kickoff'11 tag suggested by @joshyboy81, and will of course be at Lambeau Field by Thursday afternoon to heckle pre-game entertainer Kid Rock (I thought he was a Detroit Lions fan!) and then take in the game.

A prevailing theme this week will no doubt be the divergent paths each team's players took during the lockout. Saints quarterback Drew Brees hosted a series of very public players-only practices at Tulane University, believing they would limit the rust buildup before training camp. The Packers, on the other hand, worked out individually because of scheduling issues and injury concerns, a decision later backed by coach Mike McCarthy.

I'll go ahead and say it now. I don't know who is going to win Thursday night, but I'll be stunned if the Saints' offseason work is the difference. Every tea has its own needs, and I can tell you for a fact that Packers team captains Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson felt confident their teammates would responsibly take care of their offseason conditioning on their own.

And in truth, that's really what the Saints' workouts were about: Providing a structure, and some peer pressure, for players to stay in shape in the absence of team-run offseason programs. Perhaps it strengthened chemistry in some instances. But from a football perspective, the value of those workouts seemed minimal. How much will NFL-caliber players get out of running routes at half speed in t-shirts and shorts?

I suppose we could find out Thursday night. But when I spoke to Rodgers about the issue in training camp, he noted the Packers were already a closely-knit team from a chemistry standpoint and suggested that conditioning is ultimately the responsibility of individual.

"It's a self-motivated league and guys have to get themselves ready to play," Rodgers said. "It is a different league than it was in the past. The offseason program has a place, but I think it's important to get your work done in training camp. Once you get the pads on, that changes everything. ... It'll be hard on the rookies and the new players, but the veterans on our team have worked hard and have themselves in good shape and are ready to rock and roll."

Speaking on a conference call with Wisconsin media, Brees said Sunday that "maybe we're a little bit ahead of the game and maybe that gives an edge." (Transcription courtesy Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.) Not even Brees is willing to go much further than that.

The Saints appear to be among the NFL's top teams this season and they could win Thursday. But I don't think it will be because about 40 of their players, some of whom have already been released or moved on, got together for a few practices over a six-month period.

We've heard varying reports about the Packers' training camp, and it's true that they got bogged down a bit after two weeks of night practices. But McCarthy said Sunday he is happy with how the team practiced and progressed after moving to a more traditional practice schedule.

"Our program started in training camp and I'm really focused on our team," McCarthy said. "[The advantage of offseason workouts] is a matter of opinion. I thought our players and coaching staff did a good job hitting their targets throughout training camp -- the things that needed to get done because we had spent so much time away from one another. I'm very pleased with the way training camp went."

I'm still getting my story list together for the week. Let me know if you have any requests.