GREEN BAY – Well, at least the field was playable.
“Another Family Night, another weather situation,” team president/CEO Mark Murphy said, shaking his head. “Unfortunately, we’ve had some practice at it.”
Yes, for the third time in four years, the weather did not cooperate for the Green Bay Packers’ annual Family Night Scrimmage at Lambeau Field, cutting short the on-field football festivities after just 20 plays from scrimmage, with only the No. 1 offense having gotten any meaningful work. With ominous skies to the west and a severe thunderstorm warning in effect, the Packers pulled the plug after rookie Randall Cobb’s punt return, before the No. 1 defense could see action.
So one night after the Chicago Bears, their NFC North rivals, saw their Family Fest practice canceled because the Soldier Field turf was almost as bad as it was for the NFC Championship Game in January, the Packers got only slightly more accomplished before an announced crowd of 43,048. And while the Bears went back to their training camp site in Bourbonnais, Ill., and practiced until 10:30 Friday night, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the players would still have Saturday off and would not practice to make up for the missed work.
“We need to look at the Farmer’s Almanac or something. This is unbelievable,” McCarthy said. “You really feel bad for the fans. This is such a special evening for the families, the kids, the fireworks, the whole deal. Everybody looks forward to it. I don’t know what to say. It’s unbelievable.
“There’s really no opportunity to make up for the work that we had planned tonight. It’s unfortunate. This is the one practice – because technically it was a practice instead of a scrimmage – that you’re exposed to weather canceling it. Obviously, we have the Hutson Center that protects us from this situation. We’ll evaluate the little bit of film that we had.”
In 2008, in addition to the tornado caused by the surprise arrival of a soon-to-be-traded Brett Favre, a rainstorm delayed the on-field work by roughly an hour. In 2009, a lightning storm moved through just as the players were stretching and the entire event was washed out after the team and its fans waited two hours in hopes of salvaging the night.
On Saturday night, team officials moved up the start of the on-field football work when the radar showed the storm headed toward Green Bay. That meant shortening the individual and position work, canceling the special player introductions that the team had planned and going straight into the team work that was scheduled. That portion of the scrimmage had already been modified because of the offseason NFL lockout, with McCarthy opting to eliminate the live tackling periods normally held on Family Night.
“It was fun while it lasted, I guess,” running back James Starks said.
Despite the less-than-ideal conditions – from the lockout wiping out the entire offseason to Saturday night’s rainout – players swore there is still plenty of time to prepare for the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the New Orleans Saints. The Packers return to practice Monday and will open preseason play next Saturday night at Cleveland.
“I’m not too worried because everybody’s kind of in the same boat,” safety Charlie Peprah said. “Yeah, the Saints got together as a group, but talking to a few guys in the offseason that went to those player-organized workouts, a lot of them didn’t really think they got anything out of it, to be honest. They were like, ‘It was kind of a waste of time.’ I feel we’re professionals, and we can adapt to any situations. I think we’ll be fine.”
Added second-year right tackle Bryan Bulaga: “I don’t think anyone’s too concerned about it. I know everyone realizes it’s time to keep pressing – we do have a game next week. So we have to get ready for a football game. We just have to come back on Monday and keep practicing, start practicing well and get things flowing here.”
Despite the abbreviated affair, there were some highlights – and one major lowlight. On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Aaron Rodgers telegraphed a pass to the left to wide receiver James Jones and undrafted free agent cornerback Brandian Ross picked it off, returning it for a touchdown.
“Pre-snap, I saw Aaron check off to James Jones and he just nodded his head,” Ross said. “I’m a rookie, he’s a veteran, I figured he’d try me the first play. I just sat on his route and jumped it.”
McCarthy, who allowed offensive coordinator Joe Philbin to call plays, said he didn’t speak with Rodgers, Philbin or quarterbacks coach Tom Clements before his post-practice press conference because he was dealing with the weather issues, so he wasn’t sure what went wrong on the play.
“I know it was a hinge route. So, I don’t know if it was the adjustment or the read of the quarterback. It’s one or the other,” McCarthy said. “It didn’t work out very well for the offense.”
The No. 1 offense moved the ball against the No. 2 defense after that, with Rodgers going deep to rookie wide receiver Randall Cobb for a 40-ayrd gain against Ross on a free play created by Erik Walden jumping offsides. But that drive stalled and Rodgers’ third-and-13 pass to Donald Driver from the 21-yard line fell incomplete, ending the threat. The starting offense’s final driver ended in a 5-yard Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson touchdown.
Then, after Cobb returned a Tim Masthay punt with the No. 1 punt return unit, team officials ended the event, having decided after the 2009 delay not to have the team return to the field after any sort of weather delay.
“What we didn’t want was to risk injury to the players. They were out there and warmed up, and they had a couple of different series. We talked it through with Mike that once they went in, that was it,” Murphy said. “This year’s a little unique with the lockout and the lack of a full offseason, (so) we want to make sure we err on the side of caution.
The skies opened a few minutes later.
“In hindsight, this may have been a pretty good break for the football team. I think mentally they’re worn down,” McCarthy said, adding that he doesn’t factor Family Night in to his planned number of practice snaps in camp. “We’ve accomplished a lot this week, even with the day off Tuesday. I think they’re mentally challenged and worn down more than physically, in my opinion. Tonight’s break may be helpful from that standpoint.
“We have a lot of work to do. You’re probably tired of hearing me saying it, but it’s just where we are as a team and we’ll continue to work through it. We’ll have four practices to get ready for Cleveland next week, and we’ll be ready to when we hit Cleveland.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.