When the NFL' s last Collective Bargaining Agreement took effect in 2011, the offseason program for teams was reduced from 15 weeks to nine weeks, allowing for less contact time for players and coaches.
With that in mind, some might question the Green Bay Packers decision to excuse veterans with six years of service or more from Thursday's final minicamp practice.
But according to head coach Mike McCarthy, it's not the veterans on the team he's worried about. It's more about giving the younger players on the roster, the inexperienced ones, extra repitiions they wouldn't normally get.
"When you look at your football team and how we schedule them and how they've been trained, when you look at the challenges that a nine-week program puts on your team, really the stress point is your younger players," said McCarthy. "So I think clearly on how we practice the team, how we rep the team, the opportunities created for the veterans and the extra opportunities that you create for your younger players is all part of those decisions."
Among those getting the day off on Thursday were both starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his backup Matt Flynn, guys who know the Packers offense in and out.
Their absence opened the door for young quarterbacks like Scott Tolzien and Chase Rettig, and it was the former Wisconsin Badgers trigger-puller in particular that was the beneficiary.
"Today's practice is exactly what we look for," said McCarthy. "A lot of younger players got a lot of reps today that did not have the opportunity in the other practices. Scott Tolzien got a lot better today. I knew that when I walked off the field. That's what you want in these types of practices."
Thursday wasn't the first time McCarthy gave veterans the day off either, noting that the previous Friday, the last day of Organized Team Activities, he did the same thing.
Tolzien tried his best to take advantage of the situation, directing the Packers offense and learning more about the players surrounding him.
"I think when you get extended reps, it helps you get in a rhythm and just everything from the play call to a progression standpoint," said Tolzien. "So you appreciate those opportunities and are always trying to make the most of them."
As a player that's exhausted his practice-squad eligibility, Tolzien is looking to make a statement and prove that he belongs on the team's 53-man roster in 2014 because there is no more Plan B. Either he's worth keeping around or he'll be looking for employment elsewhere.
Whether he ends up being the No. 2 quarterback or the No. 3 quarterback in the short term doesn't much matter. There's long-term potential for Tolzien in Green Bay as the Packers committed to Flynn for just one year in offering him a new offseason contract.
As much as Tolzien enjoyed the extra practice time on Thursday, he also sees the positives of playing with Rodgers—one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL—on a regular basis.
"One of the greatest things all of us quarterbacks have going here is we're watching the best," said Tolzien. "Just to observe him every day, you can't put a price tag on that. Everything from his demeanor in the locker room to his demeanor on the practice field, how he studies, it's an awesome opportunity for all of us on a day in, day out basis to watch him to do his thing. He's the best at it."
Perhaps most importantly for Tolzien, he's acting like he belongs. He knows his role and is aware he's not going to be taking away Rodgers' job anytime soon. But that's not stopping him from practicing like he's getting ready to lead the Packers into the playoffs.
"Any time that guys are relying on you when you're the first guy in the huddle, that's a big chance for you," said Tolzien. "But at the same time, it shouldn't really change who you are. You should prepare like a starter every day."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien by Brad Penner—USA TODAY Sports.
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