|David Butler II/US Presswire|
|Tom Brady (second from left) attended more Pats workouts in Foxboro this offseason than he had since his 20s.|
The story tied up neatly last fall, but the Green Bay Packers can admit now that they were, indeed, selling a fairy tale. Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Co. told whoever would listen in 2011 that it didn't matter that other teams staged organized lockout camps, and they didn't. The gang jammed a 13-0 start down the critics' throats as proof.
Maybe it didn't. Maybe it did. But that wasn't the central question to them. This was: What in the world were they supposed to say?
"To me, that's a great example of the outside hurdles that you have to be able to handle as a football team," coach Mike McCarthy told NFL.com. "Regardless of which way it works out, in the NFL path of being successful, the biggest challenges are off the field if you let (them arise). That was typical. We just had to handle it. There's gonna be a day, and it's gonna be this year, where we're gonna be in a team meeting and we're gonna say, 'There are some hot topics out there. And this is what we have to deal with and make sure we're on the same page.' "
Now, a year after scoffing at the importance of running around in shorts in May and June, these Packers are on the same page again, this time with a very different story.
They don't need to tell you how important the 10-week stretch from April to June was. They'd show you -- with exceptional attendance and what McCarthy terms as "100 percent accountability." And it starts with Rodgers, who led the club in snark early last year when the questions arose. He started his press conference after beating the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 by saying, "I just gotta ask myself, 'What would've happened if we had offseason workouts?' "
With that 2011 company line to redirect the narrative in the rearview mirror, the quarterback had McCarthy racking his brain in going over the 2012 offseason program, saying, "I'm trying to think if he even missed a day of it."
Rodgers wasn't alone. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady spent the past few years, following the birth of his first child, chiefly on the West Coast in the offseason, routinely showing up later in the offseason in time for the start of OTAs. This year, he was in Foxboro for the first week of the program, and more present than at any time since his 20s. Brady told me in May the reason why was he felt the need to make every day count, with the tightening of the spring schedule from 15 weeks to 10 weeks under the new collective bargaining agreement.
In Denver, Peyton Manning didn't even wait for the official start of the offseason program, gathering teammates at local high schools in the weeks prior to get a head start. And once team-run workouts began, according to a Broncos source, Manning "lived there. He was around the facility all the time. ... From the day we signed him, he's done everything." Meanwhile, brother Eli Manning, according to a New York Giants source, had similarly perfect attendance: "He rarely misses anything, if ever."
The irony here is that while all these other QBs have been treating Wednesdays in May like Wednesdays in October, it's Drew Brees who's been absent this year, because of his contract situation. Brees ran the most detailed and complex of the lockout camps last offseason, and it was Brees whom Rodgers was juxtaposed against last year. Funny thing is, in a way, Rodgers is validating Brees' 2011 intentions with his 2012 actions.
Don't get this twisted. It's not as if Brees is suddenly going to become a mediocre quarterback because he's missed a few weeks in spring, just like Rodgers wasn't going to be sunk by spending last spring away from Wisconsin. But when those weeks are used primarily to program-build, which is how most clubs invest them, having the leader in line certainly doesn't hurt.
"Your best players have gotta be your best people, and your best people gotta be the best representatives and salesmen of your program," McCarthy said. "That's something that's talked about, and (Rodgers) does that. He does it to the umpteenth. Now, he's had events, and his schedule is different than the rest of our football team. But he still makes it work."
And believe it or not, that might be more important now than it's ever been.
Two coaches told me after their offseason programs wrapped up that the shortened schedule actually led to more structure in the spring, an expectation that players would spend the full stipend of hours, and what they believed was more efficient productivity. It's for the same reason Brady cited above: With less time to work -- which includes limitations on training camp in the summer, as well -- every minute was at more of a premium.
By the letter of the law, these coaches can't force their players to be there for a single second of all that, with the exception of a three-day minicamp. But as McCarthy said, if the best player is in, chances are others will fall in behind him.
And once a player like Rodgers, Brady or either Manning shows up, the stakes are raised.
"He makes everybody better," McCarthy said of Rodgers. "He competes in the two-minute drill like it's his last one every time. And it's not only great for him, it's great for the offense, and it's even better for the defense. He makes the whole team better just with his approach. Go off the field, too, he's a good guy. He does a lot for a lot of people. The guy's got a big heart. He's special."
In turn, the Packers can be, too.
And while that group, and this player, proved last year that being together in the spring doesn't mean everything, this year they all showed that, to them, it most certainly counts for something.
Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer