After an ‘all-timer’ of a speech to team, Mike Pettine gets to work on Packers’ defense
GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers has heard a lot of great speeches in his career. And delivered a few really good ones as well.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback will never forget his good friend and teammate Charles Woodson’s “White House on three!” speech, after President Barack Obama had said he’d attend Super Bowl XLV if his beloved Chicago Bears beat the Packers in the 2010 NFC Championship Game. (“The President doesn’t want to come watch us in the Super Bowl?” Woodson said after the Packers’ victory at Soldier Field. “Guess what … we’ll go see him!”)
Rodgers listened intently to ex-NBA basketball player Chris Herren, who visited the team in 2012 and delivered his inspirational story of overcoming addiction. (Rodgers later called Herren “the best guest speaker we’ve ever had.”)
And Rodgers was there again in 2015, when coach Mike McCarthy brought in blind adventurer and motivational speaker Erik Weihenmayer, who climbed Mount Everest and co-founded No Barriers USA. (Their motto: “What’s inside of you is a lot stronger than what’s in your way.”)
So Rodgers didn’t want to exaggerate just how powerful new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s speech to the entire team had been to start training camp. But given how much the defense has struggled in recent years — and, perhaps, the attitude adjustment the team needed as a whole — Rodgers clearly appreciated what the intense Pettine said behind closed doors.
So much so that Rodgers offered up his endorsement of Pettine’s words — unprompted — in response to an unrelated question about the defensive backfield’s improved speed.
“Well, it’s a different mindset. That was what was talked about a lot (Wednesday),” Rodgers said following the first practice of training camp Thursday. “Coach Pettine got up in front of the squad and gave — I don’t want to beef it up too much, but it was a near all-timer.
“I’ve been around here for 14 years, and that was a really, really good talk to the team. As an offensive player, to hear the defensive coordinator get up there and talk about defense the way he did and goals and mindset, that was pretty impressive. And that gives you a lot of hope.”
It wasn’t the first time Pettine had addressed the team since his Jan. 24 hiring, and Rodgers didn’t delve into details about Pettine’s address. But multiple players raved about what Pettine had said and said it marked a stark departure from his predecessor Dom Capers’ more measured approach. While careful not to insult Capers, whom coach Mike McCarthy fired after nine seasons as defensive coordinator, players agreed Pettine’s message resonated.
“I think it was a message that we all needed to hear,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “I think guys have bought in. It’s a positive energy that we feed off of. It’s the ‘pack mentality.’ He brought it with him, and I’m excited about it.
“It was, ‘Let’s get this (expletive) going, and we know we’ve all got one goal — to get to the Super Bowl. We all want a ring, we all want to chase glory, but what are you willing to do for it?’ It’s Day 1, and we’re all chasing that one goal.”
Rodgers said all of the coordinators addressed the entire team, not just their respective sides of the ball. That included new offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, whom Rodgers has praised in the past for commanding a room and knowing what emotional buttons to push.
But it was Pettine’s presentation that packed the greatest punch. Players said it hit on key concepts — aggressiveness, toughness, accountability — that haven’t been put into practice often enough in recent years.
“It’s really the tone he set. It doesn’t seem like he’s interested in being — I don’t want to make it sound like it’s a bad thing — but he’s not really trying to make friends. He’s trying to win games,” wide receiver Davante Adams said. “He’s bringing a new philosophy in and he’s like, ‘Look, I’m going to play the hardest guys, and we’re going to get after it. And the rest of the guys, it’s going to be tough for you if you don’t have the right mentality. This is what I’m looking for in my defense.’
“That’s the type of stuff you want to hear, because accountability is the biggest thing with this team — making sure guys are held accountable and are holding other people accountable. To hear that, it’s definitely a good feeling, to come from a new coach.
“You like a guy like that leading. You don’t want somebody who’s just half-stepping, to put it nicely. I feel like (Pettine) has the right mentality and is a guy people will have to respect. That’s my biggest thing. I’m not interested in coming in here and making a million friends. And that’s definitely what you see from him right now. Demanding. Definitely demanding. Hold guys accountable.”
Added veteran cornerback Tramon Williams, who played for Pettine in Cleveland: “We’ve got to do our part (as a defense). What he’s saying is the mindset of no matter what he calls, my mindset is to beat the other guy, regardless of the (play).”
But for all the buzz Pettine’s speech generated, Clinton-Dix said it won’t mean much if the players don’t back it up with action.
“He really had me ready to work, really motivated me to get out there and hold my end up and make plays. Honestly, his message really touched me. It did. I’m not going to lie and say it didn’t,” Clinton-Dix said. “But they’re still words at the end of the day. We’ve got to play and make it happen.”