In Titletown, USA, aka Green Bay, Wisc., where the first part of training camp catered to the early bird. Coach Mike McCarthy scheduled his first half-dozen practices for 8:15 a.m. at Ray Nitschke Field, a short ride on kids' bicycles for the players (it's a tradition) from the locker room at Lambeau Field. Practice moved to 7 p.m. on Thursday, and there also will be 3:30 p.m. and 11 a.m. sessions as McCarthy tries to keep his players (and the media) on their toes. The Packers have been training camp homebodies since 1958, one year before Vince Lombardi arrived. They practice at their facility and players are housed at St. Norbert College in nearby DePere.
This is not entirely new for the 15-year veteran, who was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. In recent seasons, the Packers have given Woodson a handful of plays at safety during a game. Now, he'll get a bigger dose. The thinking is that Woodson, a versatile playmaker, can be even more involved if he's closer to the ball. It also could extend the 35-year-old's career.
"Well, that's what some people say, but I don't know of too many examples other than Rod and Ronnie," Woodson said. "Not all corners can switch and make the move to safety. Once you get up there in age, they start bringing new guys in at your position and you kind of get yourself weeded out."
Having some younger legs at the cornerback position should help a defense that allowed 4,796 passing yards (an average of nearly 300 per game) last season, but just in case you're wondering, the Packers have no plans to put Woodson out to pasture.
The leader in the clubhouse is third-year back James Starks, who displayed some flashes during the Packers' Super Bowl run two seasons ago but still is a developing player who has been hampered by various injuries (a hamstring during the 2010 regular season and a knee and ankle last year). Starks has size (6-foot-2, 218), speed and strength, and he's a capable receiver. He just needs to stay healthy. He spent a lot of the offseason riding bikes, both stationary and two-wheelers, to build up his endurance and strengthen his legs.
"His availability is probably his biggest challenge," McCarthy said.
Two second-year backs, Alex Green and Brandon Saine, are pushing Starks for work. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Packers go with a running-back-by-committee approach this season.
"Donald is so consistent," McCarthy said. "That's the one thing you always admire about Donald. The thing that's overlooked is his toughness. Just when you don't hear from him for a little while, he goes out and makes two or three big plays. He's the all-time pro."
Driver made a couple of athletic catches during Tuesday's practice, including an acrobatic reception in the end zone to end a two-minute period.
The Packers won't go 15-1 again. I'll go out on a limb and say that right now. But they have a great chance to win 12 games and repeat as champs in a getting-tougher-by-the-year NFC North -- if the defense is better. Although the Pack led the league in interceptions last season, the lack of a consistent pass rush and an oft-vulnerable pass defense was exposed by the Giants in an NFC divisional-round win over the Packers. Green Bay's schedule, which features five primetime games, has some quirks. Between Sept. 30 and Dec. 2, the Packers have only two home games. They play a string of three straight road games (at Indy, Houston, St. Louis) in October, and then face back-to-back challenges at the Giants and at the Lions after their Nov. 11 bye.