By Chris Havel
Jeff Jagodzinski is gaining a reputation for throwing tempo tantrums.
The Green Bay Packers' offensive coordinator wants players to practice at game speed in individual drills during training camp. There is a method to his madness. He wants the offense to go into the team period of practice feeling drained.
The upside is that it conditions players to concentrate while they are catching their breath. The downside is that it may contribute to mental mistakes such as missed assignments and pre-snap penalties, and there has been a considerable amount of both.
It can lead to some sloppy play in practices and preseason games, but with patience and diligence, the payoff can be significant. The exhaustive individual drills, followed by intense team sessions, should create a well-conditioned, mentally tough unit.
The concentration level that is required to function when fatigued is multiplied, because the Packers are implementing a new scheme. If the offense appears sloppy and out of sync in the preseason opener at San Diego on Saturday night, it may be easy to assume the unit was poorly prepared.
On the contrary, it may be because the offense is building toward the regular season opener, and today's sacrifices will become tomorrow's successes.
Scott Wells sees the logic in it.
"This year, our practices are a lot more up tempo as far as individual periods leading into the team periods," he said. "By the time we get to the team period, guys are more fatigued, definitely, but that's good, because you're fatigued during the game."
It remains to be seen whether the offense will command the ability to execute in less-than-ideal circumstances. The approach is a departure from the previous regime, which paced itself during individual drills and maxed out during team periods.
That approach may have led to a false sense of security last year. When the game was on the line and the offense needed a first down, too often it melted down.
The key for the offense is to steadily erase the miscues. Building a strong foundation is sensible, and the big-picture philosophy is a welcome change, but it can't take forever and it can't be used as an excuse.
The Chargers' defense offers a stiff test because it plays a 3-4 alignment with above-average personnel. The Packers' offense faces the additional challenge of playing its first preseason game on the road.
Wells, a first-year starter at center, offered simple advice to his linemates.
"I told them to relax and trust their instincts," he said. "They know the system. They're well prepared. I'll be making the calls. Listen to what I say and do. Trust the calls, and we'll be fine."
Wells said the offense gradually has reduced its mistakes.
"We are eliminating a lot of those problems as we go along," he said. "You want everybody to be onside. No false starts. No missed assignments. You want everybody knowing what he's doing. Basically, the idea is to relax and communicate."
That, and go 100 percent during individual drills or risk Jagodzinski's wrath.
Chris Havel can be reached by voice mail at (920) 431-8586 or by e-mail at [email protected]