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Packers’ Nelson: No substitute for game experience

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The Sports Xchange

DE PERE, Wis. — No matter how many years of experience he accumulates, Jordy Nelson says there’s no substitute for game reps in the preseason.

“It’s a different speed,” said Nelson, the Green Bay Packers’ accomplished eighth-year wide receiver. “Practice is a different speed than game. Preseason game is a different speed than regular season. And, it amps up more for playoffs. So, you need those reps.”

After playing only two of Green Bay’s four preseason games last year, Nelson is receptive to suiting up every game on the exhibition schedule this summer.

That’s just the approach head coach Mike McCarthy may be taking with the invaluable likes of Nelson, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and running back Eddie Lacy, a year after McCarthy took a highly cautious approach to the preseason.

McCarthy kept the starters on the field for a full quarter Thursday night, when the Packers started game play with a 22-11 road victory against the New England Patriots.

“I think it was a good outing for us,” Rodgers said. “We moved the ball pretty well, had a lot of reps, got our conditioning in.”

Yet, after going 11-of-19 passing for 117 yards and not leading a touchdown drive in three possessions before the backups took over, Rodgers acknowledged more playing time would be beneficial for all before this month is out.

“I think we accomplished some of our goals,” Rodgers said of the preseason debut, “but we’ve got a long way to go.”

That’s telling, particularly for Green Bay’s explosive offense, which returned all 11 starters from last season but sputtered Thursday in its quarter of action.

Two of the Rodgers-led drives chewed up nearly six minutes of game clock apiece and reached the red zone, but the Packers managed only three points. Lacy dropped a pass from Rodgers on fourth-and-goal from the Patriots’ 2-yard line in the lengthy game-opening possession.

Contrary to conventional thinking that McCarthy wouldn’t have much reason to give his veteran starters much playing time in the preseason this year, the 10th-year coach just might be throwing caution to the wind.

Mindful of the Packers’ getting off to a 1-2 start each of the previous three seasons, McCarthy has stressed the importance of getting off to a fast start this season since the team reconvened for workouts in the spring.

Toward that end, McCarthy not only played Rodgers, Lacy and Nelson on Thursday after sitting them in the first preseason game last year, he gave them excessive game-day reps. Rodgers took 33 snaps from center in the three series, which featured two drives of at least 14 plays.

“We want to play fast and up-tempo the game and create opportunities as much as we can for our offense,” McCarthy said. “That was really the general outlook offensively (Thursday). For the most part, we got a lot of that done.”

And, McCarthy was satisfied with the results by that first unit, never mind the dearth of points, two sacks taken by Rodgers and another failed fourth-down opportunity when No. 2 back James Starks was stuffed for no gain with a yard needed in New England territory.

Lacy averaged a sturdy 7.2 yards in his five rushing attempts with a long of 15 yards. Rodgers completed passes to five players, led by Starks with three catches for 38 yards. The Pro Bowl duo of Nelson and Randall Cobb combined for three receptions for 41 yards.

“You always need the game reps,” Nelson said. “I don’t think you need to be out there a whole game, obviously … but there’s plenty of guys that need the reps.”

That should mean possibly an entire first half of action for the Rodgers-led offense when the Packers next play Sunday at the Pittsburgh Steelers. As is customary, the starters will get their longest action of the preseason in the third game, which is Aug. 29 at home against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Five days later, the Packers end the preseason schedule by hosting the New Orleans Saints. Unlike the preseason finale last year when Rodgers, Nelson and Lacy also watched out of uniform, it could turn out to be a true final tune-up for one and all.

“It’s great work and exactly what we needed,” McCarthy said about Thursday’s first outing. “We took our first step as a football team, and we’ll grow from it.”


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