GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy doesn't seem to like the longer preseason any more than you do, but with five exhibition games on the Green Bay Packers' schedule this summer, the veteran coach has a new plan in mind.
And it doesn’t sound like it will include a lot of Aaron Rodgers and other key starters, at least not early on.
Now that the preseason schedule has started to take shape, McCarthy can zero in on exactly how he plans to treat training camp and the extra game.
“Our younger football players will benefit from the extra time,” McCarthy said earlier this offseason after the Packers-Colts matchup in the Hall of Fame game was announced.
Just like he does in the regular season, McCarthy will break up the preseason into segments.
“We’ve got a pretty good idea [of] how we’re going to play the first two games, and then games three and four, and then five,” McCarthy said.
As Rodgers’ career has progressed, his playing time in the preseason has been reduced. Last summer, the two-time MVP quarterback played in only two of the four preseason games. He hasn’t played in the preseason finale since 2012.
Rodgers made some pointed comments about the preseason last year after receiver Jordy Nelson blew out his knee in the second preseason game. He called it “a meaningless game.” Rodgers didn’t play in the preseason after that. McCarthy also rested several key healthy starters in the final, including Eddie Lacy, Clay Matthews, Mike Daniels and nearly the entire starting offensive line.
It sounds like McCarthy may treat the first two and last preseason game the same way.
“Look, our young guys will play more,” McCarthy said. “They’ll play more in the games. We’re going to have some practices that are designated just for them in the offseason program and also some practices that will favor those guys early in camp.”
As for Nelson, McCarthy indicated that he already has a plan for his receiver who is coming off ACL reconstruction.
“It’s a conversation, frankly, I’ve already had with Jordy with this fifth preseason game and how we play him in the preseason,” McCarthy said. “I think that’s a conversation you have with each and every veteran player who’s coming back from a major injury.”
McCarthy said his ideal preseason schedule would include three games followed by a 10-day to two-week break before the regular-season opener. Packers president Mark Murphy said at the NFL scouting combine earlier this year that there was some support building around the league for that kind of plan, but it is likely several years away from happening if it does at all.
In the meantime, McCarthy must find a way to make the longer preseason a productive one.
“I think it’s important to take that opportunity to develop the youth of your football team [and] is probably the biggest gain I see in the process,” McCarthy said. “When you build schedules, you build training camp schedules, you look at these practices, you guys probably get tired of hearing me say it but it’s the truth, it’s stress points. There are always stress points that you have to have. You have to stress your football team. Doing it smarter, that’s the trick. That’s what everybody is trying to get right.
“Trust me, if there was one way to do it and there was a right way, coaches and GMs, they would have thought of it a long time ago and everybody would be training the same way. Finding that right formula is most important. The team needs to get stressed, that’s where the mental toughness comes from. That’s why our practices are altered and changed, because everything is done by design. I look at it as an opportunity to develop the youth of your team with that extra week.”