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McCarthy puts focus on takeaways

Jun 01, 2014 -- 10:36pm
Safety Chris Banjo goes up to intercept a pass during the team takeaway drill during last week’s OTA practice.

GREEN BAY – It’s one of Mike McCarthy’s favorite phrases: You get what you emphasize.

In an effort to boost his team’s takeaway numbers, the Green Bay Packers coach has instituted a new drill during organized team activity practices called the “team takeaway drill.”

It was noticeable in the first open OTA practice last week, coming on the heels of the usual “ball security drill,” in which offensive players battle to keep the football while going mano-a-mano with a defender and running through a gauntlet of slapping, hacking reaching-in teammates.

In the “team takeaway drill,” the defensive player runs in a trail position in coverage against an offensive player. The quarterbacks then intentionally underthrow the ball slightly to give the defender a chance to intercept it.

But this isn’t just defensive backs covering receivers. We’re talking defensive linemen running alongside offensive linemen, B.J. Raji covering T.J. Lang, Josh Boyd running stride-for-stride with Josh Sitton.

“Everybody on the field, every position needs to know how to handle the football,” McCarthy explained. “The football is the most valuable part of the game of football, so team takeaway [is part of a progression]. We obviously have ball security, and team tackling is what we start with. Those are three team fundamentals that we emphasize every single day in practice.”

In addition to their other issues on defense last season, the Packers finished tied for 20th in takeaways (22) in the 32-team NFL. While their emphasis on forcing and recovering more fumbles paid off (13 forced, 11 recovered), they intercepted only 11 passes, tied for 26th in the NFL.

During defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ previous four regular seasons in Green Bay, the Packers led the NFL in takeaways in 2009 (40), finished sixth in 2010 (32), tied for first in 2011 (38) and tied for 19th in 2012 (23).

Now, they’re looking to get back to where they were those first three seasons, when their combined 110 takeaways were tops in the NFL.

“I think we’re trying to increase everybody’s ball awareness,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “(McCarthy) didn’t really address it with us (as a staff). He said, ‘This is what we’re going to do in that area.’ But I thought it was a really good drill. Multiple guys were handling the ball.”

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