GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's more truth than fiction that a head coach and quarterback are joined at the hip in the NFL, especially in Green Bay. Vince Lombardi had Bart Starr. Mike Holmgren had Brett Favre.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy admits he allows himself to dream on the quiet mornings when he's sipping a cup of coffee while taking in the historical sweet aroma of Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers is his big-ticket item who can help him build the next Green Bay legacy, but McCarthy takes nothing for granted.
"[Rodgers] has done an excellent job to this point, he's a two-year starter. ... He'll see new challenges this year from the defenses because, you know, they've had now two years to study him and our particular offense," said McCarthy, now in his fourth season working with Rodgers. "We also have a responsibility as a coaching staff to make sure that he has the resources. ... And frankly, he just needs to learn the offense."
Wait. Rodgers must learn the offense after making the Pro Bowl with 4,434 yards, 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in 2009?
"We have a few new concepts," McCarthy said with an ever-so-slight grin. He declined to elaborate.
McCarthy is most proud that Rodger's accuracy and decision-making have progressed on schedule. He already has physical gifts that arguably are as good as any QB in the NFL.
"To say he's the most gifted, that's a huge compliment. … He is definitely in the upper echelon," McCarthy said. "I mean, there is not anything from an offensive outlook that we hold back from. We feel that he can make all the throws. He gives us the ability to throw the ball deep, but also he has the ability to get the ball out of his hand quickly, and he's very disciplined and smart with his decisions and so forth. I would say he is definitely a complete quarterback."
More observations from the Packers' training camp:
• McCarthy expects a big reduction in the 51 sacks the Packers allowed in 2009 during an 11-5 season. First-round pick Bryan Bulaga (Iowa) has been so impressive that instead of just learning the left tackle position behind veteran Chad Clifton, he is competing to be the starting left guard.
• The most unsung player on offense is right guard Josh Sitton, a 6-foot-3, 318-pounder entering his third season. The Packers believe he is a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
• Special teams play was such a weakness last season that McCarthy has emphasized it in camp. There's been no lack of tackling in practice, and officials have been asked to monitor penalties that plagued the unit in '09.
• While the Packers suffered a big blow when defensive tackle Johnny Jolly was suspended for the year for violating the NFL substance abuse policy, they're tickled with the move of last year's top pick, B.J. Raji, to nose tackle. They like their depth with defensive tackle Ryan Pickett and defensive end Cullen Jenkins, and are high on rookie defensive end Michael Neal, a second-round pick from Purdue.
• Linebacker A.J. Hawk, who has fallen somewhat short of lofty expectations as a former first-round pick, is having his best camp. He looks lean and quick.
• Clay Matthews, recovering from a hamstring injury, has flipped to left outside linebacker to add to the disruption Jenkins can cause at right defensive end. Matthews is coming off a 10-sack season.
• While Al Harris recovers from ACL surgery, the cornerback competition opposite Charles Woodson has allowed young defenders to shine, including a physical Brandon Underwood and a very speedy undrafted rookie, Sam Shields of Miami.
• Defensive coordinator Dom Capers had an tremendous statistical impact in his first season; McCarthy and Capers just want fewer breakdowns against big-time passers like they did against Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner. All of them burned the Packers in crucial games last season.
• Yes, tight end Jermichael Finleystill has a rising wow factor, but the Packers would like to see a little more maturity.
ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen will file reports from all the training camps and send updates on the road via Twitter (@mortreport).