Packers enjoying healthy outlook

Amid an offseason of change, there’s one thing Mike McCarthy is hoping stays the same for his Green Bay Packers: The incredibly good health his team had during the 2014 season.

“I hope every year looks like this year,”  the Packers coach said at an informal session with beat writers at a hotel restaurant near Lucas Oil Stadium during the NFL Scouting Combine. “If every year looks like this year, we’re going to be carrying trophies around.”

McCarthy instituted a variety of changes before last season – including radically altering the team’s practice schedule – in hopes of reversing its troublesome injury history. From hiring a full-time nutritionist from the University of Oregon to making Friday a rest-recovery-treatment day and moving practices to Saturday, McCarthy delivered on the vow he made at the 2014 combine to do everything in his power to reduce injuries.

“Our numbers are not good. They’re very poor. And we have to get it changed,” McCarthy said at the time. “It’s a challenge we’ve been running with three of the last four years. The one year we were healthy, we were 15-1. I think it definitely translates.”

In his annual study of injuries, Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin listed the Packers as the sixth-most injured team in the NFL in 2013, based on the 70 games missed by preferred starters. The New York Giants led the NFL with 91 games missed by starters, while the New York Jets had the fewest with just 20. 
Based on Gosselin’s rankings, the Packers lost an astronomical 153 games by starters to injury in 2012 and 2013, the most in the league. In 2012, no club was more decimated by injuries than the Packers, whose starters lost 83 games to injury.

In 2010, the Packers lost a league-high 91 games from their preferred starters due to injuries – and still won the NFL title. In 2011, when the Packers won their first 13 games and finished an NFL-best and franchise-record 15-1, they tied for 15th in the most starters’ games lost to injury with 51.

All told, in Gosselin’s rankings, the Packers averaged 53.3 starters games missed during the first eight years of McCarthy’s tenure (2006 through 2013). Only the Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts lost more games to injury during that time.

But in 2014, after losing starting nose tackle B.J. Raji for the season to a ruptured biceps in training camp and center JC Tretter for eight games to an impaction fracture in his knee, clear-cut Packers starters lost only four starts due to injury: Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (one); safety Morgan Burnett (one), cornerback Sam Shields (two). Inside linebackers Brad Jones and Sam Barrington also missed games with injuries, but the Packers started a variety of players inside during the course of the season.

Gosselin said at the combine Friday that he had yet to compile final injury numbers for the 2014 season.

Both Raji’s replacement (Letroy Guion) and Tretter’s replacement (Corey Linsley) made all 16 regular-season starts. Also making all 16 starts: Left tackle David Bakhtiari; wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson; defensive end Mike Daniels; running back Eddie Lacy; guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton; linebackers Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews; cornerback Tramon Williams; and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Ten players ended the season on injured reserve: Wide receivers Jared Abbrederis and Kevin Dorsey; offensive tackles Don Barclay and Aaron Adams; linebackers Jamari Lattimore, Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer; and defensive linemen Raji, Luther Robinson and Khyri Thornton.

In fairness, the Packers had several major injuries in 2013, including Rodgers’ broken collarbone, Cobb’s broken leg, Matthews’ twice-broken thumb and tight end Jermichael Finley’s career-threatening neck injury. The biggest drop in 2014, was in muscle pull injuries, something that had plagued the Packers in recent years. Players spent Fridays in McCarthy’s STAA program, which had them doing yoga, getting massages and doing other preventative work, and while Rodgers suffered a pulled hamstring at New Orleans on Oct. 26 and a pulled calf at Tampa Bay on Dec. 21, he played through both injuries.

“I mean, health is critical,” McCarthy said this week. “I’ve never used it as an excuse in the past, but that’s a huge factor in being successful. Particularly at [certain] positions on both sides of the football – the quarterback, the offensive line, and probably your pass rushers and your guys that can cover.”

Although McCarthy admitted he was worried in camp when Raji, Barclay (torn ACL) and Abbrederis (torn ACL) all suffered major injuries, he said he believes the schedule – something he also worried about instituting during camp because it was such a different approach – made a big difference

“When you have a really good idea and a big change like that you’re going to make, if you don’t get it introduced and you don’t get it installed, a lot of times that stuff fails. And I was so worried about how we were going to get that thing off the ground,” McCarthy said.

Then, after knocking on the wooden table in front of him, McCarthy added, “I think it definitely helped us. We had the big injuries early with B.J. and Don Barclay and Jared. Those are two ACLs and biceps. The way it started it off, I was like, ‘Whoa.” But the way their bodies were at the end of the year, which is the most important part of the year, and the way they felt even coming out of the Seattle game, it’s never been that good.”

Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.