GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers are completing their offseason workouts in much the same fashion they did last spring.
Head coach Mike McCarthy excused quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, linebacker Clay Matthews and 12 other veteran players for the team’s entire minicamp, which started Tuesday.
By giving an early start to their summer break to players with five or more years of NFL experience, McCarthy is looking to hasten the development for the younger guys during the minicamp. The three days on the practice field are a review of the eight installation periods done in the recent organized team activities.
McCarthy also held the older players out of Green Bay’s last OTA on Friday.
“These four practices, in my view, are the most important practices of the offseason program,” McCarthy said. “We’ve had a lot of good things come out of these practices in the past, really gearing them toward the young players. You’re looking for your second-, third-, fourth-, fifth-year players to step up. They have more opportunities and a chance for leadership.”
Though his fifth-year status as a pro meant he had to stick around for another week, Pro-Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari welcomed the extra work in a less-crowded practice environment.
“Oh, it’s big, especially with the older guys gone,” Bakhtiari said. “A lot more reps get to be distributed, especially (for) the young guys, and a lot more one-on-one (time with the coaches). So, I think it’s really big for them. It was big for me when I was a rookie, and they have to take advantage of it. If I have to preach one thing to them, it’s these reps matter.
“You’re not going to get this much one-on-one with the coaches, one-on-one with the veterans that are still here, so maximize it. Because come (training) camp, it’s a lot more competition. If you’re not caught up (by then), you’re going to be left behind.”
McCarthy also excused 15 veteran players – among them Rodgers, Nelson, Cobb, Matthews and kicker Mason Crosby – for the duration of minicamp last year. This year’s long list includes Packers newcomers such as tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, guard Jahri Evans and defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois.
Those seasoned players will report back with the rest of the team when training camp starts July 26. The first camp practice is July 27.
“Face it, 20 percent of your football team (during the season) is going to be first-year players. That’s what history will tell you,” McCarthy said. “(This is) all in accordance with our plan to get these young guys playing. I’m hoping to see some guys take a jump this week, which is only natural. They will because they’ll have more opportunities to do that.”
–This week’s absence of Rodgers means prime exposure for Brett Hundley at quarterback. The third-year pro is leading the first-team offense in practice.
“Extra reps, you can’t beat it,” Hundley said. “I’m happy to be able to run the show, and I’m enjoying it.”
Hundley has been craving meaningful action for almost a full year.
After flourishing in preseason games as a rookie in 2015, Hundley played in only one of the team’s four exhibition games last August because of an ankle injury. He then made cameo appearances in relief of Rodgers in just five games during the season, including the playoffs.
“You get to play a series during the season at the end of the game and stuff, but you don’t get into a rhythm,” said Hundley, the team’s fifth-round draft pick in 2015. “That’s what I really want to get this preseason – and, honestly, just take a hit. I haven’t felt what live running from a 300-pound (defensive player) feels like in a while. Your heart starts racing, and that’s the feeling you want to get.”
McCarthy is emphasizing third-down and move-the-ball situations with the offense during minicamp.
Backing up Hundley this week are returning second-year player Joe Callahan and Taysom Hill, an undrafted rookie from BYU.
–Kevin King, the Packers’ top pick in this year’s draft, rejoined the team for the culmination of the spring workouts.
The cornerback from Washington had been barred from participating in the OTAs the previous three weeks because classes still were in session at his former college.
Green Bay cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt made sure King stayed on top of the playbook and installations while he was away from the team by having frequent video-conferencing sessions with him.
“Joe Whitt and then my girlfriend a little bit and Mom and Dad and then Joe Whitt,” King quipped about who contacted him the most on his phone during his extended absence from the Packers.
Expectations are high for King to contend for a starting job in Green Bay’s revamped secondary, which struggled greatly last season. The Packers selected King with the first pick in the second round (No. 33 overall) after they traded out of the opening round of the draft.
Still, the coaches aren’t in a rush to get him ready. They limited King to individual drills Tuesday.
“We’re going to bring him along at a pace and see how he does,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think it’s smart, regardless of who the player is, to throw him right out there and think he’s going to pick up where he left off.”
King is OK with his tempered return to football.
“I think coach (Whitt) did a good job of keeping me up to speed,” King said. “So, whenever they choose to unleash me, I’ll be ready.
“Other guys have been here, and other guys have been working for the same opportunities,” he added. “I haven’t shown anything yet for me to come in here and be a Day 1 starter just like that. I’m going to compete, and come Game 1 (of the season), whoever’s out there is going to get the job done.”