PHOENIX -- We all know what the Green Bay Packers are not doing this offseason. You've reminded me on a daily basis: They're not signing free agents. They're not keeping their own free agents. They're not re-signing any of the stars whose contracts will expire in the next year or two.
So what exactly are the Packers doing? From the sound of it, coach Mike McCarthy has pulled himself away from offseason business and focused on a near-obsessive review of all operations under his purview. He is planning changes to the Packers' offseason program, arranging for future upgrades to the team's medical, nutrition and weight training programs and is promising a different environment when players return April 15 to Lambeau Field.
"Opinions are heard and given," McCarthy said, "but I think I've done a much better job of keeping our coaching staff focused on our guys [rather than free agents]. That's the group we know we're going to train and we know we're going to help get better."
Such is life for the coach of the Packers, whose forays into free agency during McCarthy's tenure have been minimal (four in the past six offseasons) and not always successful (center Jeff Saturday). At a time when many coaches are watching free-agent tape or participating in visits, McCarthy has occupied himself with the kind of micro-scheduling and analysis that has come to characterize his professional personality.
With no exaggeration, I've sat and listened to McCarthy speak for 10 minutes about how he plans and defines what he refers to as "phases" of the offseason. He is as highly organized of a coach as you'll see, and if he ever gets out of coaching, he could probably get a job as a presidential scheduler. Talking to a group of reporters here at the NFL owners meetings, McCarthy redirected three unrelated questions into his expectations for the team between April and June -- a reflection of what is consuming his mind these days.
McCarthy told us that he "wasn't real happy with the way our offseason program went last year." He took us through what he considered a poor set of offseason "phases" and then admitted he tried too hard in training camp to make up for what he believed to have been lost time.
"The reality is I'm going to change some things up," he said. "I've got more to do this year than I've had in prior years. I'm reading a lot more. There are studies being done. I spent more time initially with the defense. Now I'm going to spend time by myself, some of these things I'm looking into. I hope I'm not wasting my time. It's all part of growing."
As best as I can tell, changes that will be significant and groundbreaking to McCarthy would seem pretty subtle to the rest of us. Perhaps he'll push back lunch time during organized team activities. (Gasp!) Maybe he'll introduce a new set of pre-stretching drills. (Whoa!)
The larger point: This is what modern-day NFL coaches do to fill their time during the offseason letdown. You tell them to get a hobby? They start reading up on organic nutrition, as McCarthy apparently is doing in preparation for a new Lambeau Field player dining hall that is under construction. Suffer a disappointing playoff loss? You take your coaching staff to an offseason schematic clinic on the college campus of the Heisman Trophy winner. Not satisfied? You start wondering if you were doomed by poor performances in -- yes -- organized team activities (OTAs).
You and I might simply suggest the Packers were bounced from the playoffs because they couldn't defend the run. McCarthy traces the team's downfall much further back than that. Last offseason was the Packers' first under the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement, which further restricted time players could spend at team facilities, and McCarthy's post-OTA analysis apparently revealed a few wrong turns.
"I didn't like all the practices," he said. "I didn't like all the attention to the practices. I didn't like all the attention of our particular team to the practices. I think our players, there was confusion. I think there's a misunderstanding of legal literature with the factual reality that it doesn't matter what year you're in as a football program, you don't have 90 men show up, even if you have 90 from last year, and they all practice the right way from day one. I think there was opinions and new rules and it’s normal. ...
"I just thought coming out of Phase 2 and into Phase 3, you usually get a lot more done, and I did not feel good about it. We keep daily notes of everything that goes on at every practice, and especially this time of the year when you're going back and trying to nail it down, I didn't feel like we did the amount of work -- which I knew we wouldn't get the same amount of work done with four weeks less time -- but I didn't feel very good about what we accomplished in the OTAs, Phase 3, so we’re really diving into that, looking at a number of different things. Frankly, I don't want to set the schedule until we come away from here because this is where things may or may not change or adjust because I know there's going to be some attention brought to how last year’s practices were."
Only the most educated eye will catch the portion of the offseason that McCarthy "changes up." To be clear, I'm not trying to break down the Packers' OTA performance as much as pass along the window McCarthy occasionally opens to his obsession. What are the Packers doing these days? You should have a bit of a better idea now.