Packers DL depth and new play style could result in hockey-like rotations

By: Paul Bretl 6/7/24

The Green Bay Packers’ depth along their defensive front, coupled with the attacking play style that this unit is asked to play with under Jeff Hafley, could result in a hockey-like rotation during games in an effort to keep everyone fresh.

Between the defensive tackle and defensive end positions, nine different players were relied upon regularly each week last season. While the depth of the receiver room on this Packers’ team is what garners a lot of the attention – and understandably so – Matt LaFleur is quite fond of the depth in the defensive trenches as well.

“I think much similar to the receiving group, we feel really good about our front,” said LaFleur after Tuesday’s practice. “When you’ve got RG and Preston and J.J. and then inside you’ve got Kenny Clark, Heavy D, Karl Brooks, Colby Wooden, I mean, there’s a lot of players there. T.J. Slaton. Like, we feel really good about the collective unit and I think each one of those guys is going to get more 1-on-1 opportunities along the way because it’s hard to zero in on just one guy.”

The need to heavily rotate players up front is twofold for the Packers. On the one hand, when there is quality depth, naturally, you want to get each of those players snaps. However, given the more aggressive play style of this group, which means more energy being exerted, a constant rotation – like line changes in hockey – is required to maximize the impact of each player.

In Joe Barry’s two-gap defense, as the name suggests, each member of the defensive line was responsible for two gaps, tasked with reading the movements of the offensive line and the backfield, then determining which gap was the most vulnerable and trying to fill it. Interior defenders are more so space eaters in this style of defense, helping to create opportunities for the edge rushers and linebackers to make the plays.

In Hafley’s defense, however, with the defensive line responsible for only one gap, there should be a much more proactive play style instead of reactive, with the front asked to get north and south quickly, penetrating their way into the backfield, rather than reacting to what the offense is doing. The job is to get north and south as quickly as possible.

“Individual group has been crazy,” said Kenny Clark during OTAs. “When we do drills and stuff I’m like, ‘Damn.’ We’ve got like a big group of defensive linemen now, so it’s going to be a lot different. But with this system, you’ve got to play like that. You can’t be out there like six snaps in a row and exert that much energy and make an impact on this defense. 

“With this defense, you’ve got to be able to go and really get off the ball and give that energy and that effort every single play. So, we’ll definitely be rotating a lot this season.”

With depth comes a wide variety of skill sets. From a game-planning perspective, there is a layer of unpredictability that the Packers’ front can have, allowing for Hafley to mix-and-match his rotations from week-to-week depending upon the opponent. This can even be taken a step further if there is going to be movement between the defensive end and defensive tackle position groups. 

There is also the ability to maximize those individual skill sets by putting each player in specific situations where they can thrive rather than having blanket rotations that are utilized regardless of the situation.

Collectively, this is a position group that the Packers need more consistency from this season. The Green Bay pass rush was very hot and cold last season, while they ranked 23rd in yards per carry, which includes a league-high four games where they allowed 200-plus rushing yards.

Improvement for the Packers’ defense as a whole starts up front. Slowing the run means putting the offense in predictable passing situations, and we all know how valuable quarterback pressures are in today’s game.

Although many are fixated on the new-look Packers’ secondary with the addition of Hafley as the defensive coordinator, what the defensive front is asked to do and potentially the way they are rotated could end up being quite the contrast from what we’ve seen in recent years.

“Anytime you’re trying to create things in the backfield, you’ve got to have the whole group swarm to make the play,” said defensive line coach Jason Rebrovich. “Can’t just be one guy making the tackle.

“So, you’ve got to make sure when you are creating a new line of scrimmage, when you are working to get in the backfield, there’s other guys that are going to converge. You can’t just sit there and watch one guy try and work to make one play.”

Greg Joseph’s experience in big moments could be advantage in Packers’ kicker competition

By: Paul Bretl 6/6/24

The three-way battle between Anders Carlson, Greg Joseph, and Jack Podlesny for the Packers’ starting kicking job is well underway, and through OTAs, it’s been a tight competition, with each player having his day.

“Like I mentioned before,” said Matt LaFleur after Tuesday’s practice, “it’s just the consistency day in and day out and I think all those guys have had their own moments where they’ve kind of won the day and it’s a tight battle.”

At kicker, there is no backup. One of these players will be playing in Brazil come Week 1, and the other two will likely be at home. Every practice, there is pressure to perform, and from an experience standpoint, Joseph has the edge over his counterparts.

Joseph has been in the NFL since 2018 after going undrafted out of Florida Atlantic. He has been in training camp competitions before and has attempted far more game-winners than Carlson and Podlesny. In 2022 alone, Joseph made five game-winning field goals, including a 61-yarder against the New York Giants.

“That was a fun one, for sure,” said Joseph of the 2022 season. “Just taking in, cherishing every team win, every moment, every opportunity you get like that, they’re all fun and all fond memories I’ll hold forever.”

Joseph has spent the last three seasons with the Vikings. Over his career, he has made 83 percent of his field goal attempts and has been extremely reliable on kicks under 40 yards, missing only one of his 65 attempts.

From 40-plus yards, however, Joseph is only 38-of-50, including 16-for-28 from over 50 yards. Playing in Cleveland in 2018, Joseph does have experience kicking in the elements, but he is just 3-for-7 in his career at Lambeau Field.

“We’re just trying to get him to be a little bit better, right?,” said Rich Bisaccia. “He’s been an indoor kicker now for a while, so being here is a little bit interesting. In our conversation with him, he hasn’t played well here, the two years I’ve been here. We blocked one, he missed one.

“So him playing in these conditions is a little bit different for him, as well. He’s got a tremendous leg. He’s got a great mindset. So, it’s been a good competition to this point. We expect it to stay that way for as long as Brian keeps three.”

Throughout much of OTAs, the Packers have had only two kickers participating in each practice, rotating who sits out. The reason behind this is to make sure each kicker gets enough reps when on the practice field.

Naturally, in the midst of a positional battle, it could be easy to watch how your counterparts are performing to keep tabs on where you stand in comparison. But Joseph remains fixated on his own performance and does his best not to closely follow how Carlson or Podlesny are performing.

“I have nothing bad to say about any of them. All good guys,” Joseph said. “The group all gets along great. We all learn from each other, push each other, etc.

“I just decide to stay in my own little world because that’s what I feel do best in a competition is just worrying about me. I don’t know how they’re doing; I only know how Greg Joseph is doing, and I’m going to keep it that way.”

Tuesday was just the second time all three kickers were a part of the same practice. As LaFleur said afterward, this provides a more “apples-to-apples” comparison, with each kicker dealing with the same conditions.

All three kickers had solid days. Podlesny would make 5-of-7 attempts, while Joseph and Carlson were each 6-for-7.  In an effort to create a more hectic environment, practice would conclude with each kicker making a 53-yard attempt with their teammates huddled closley around them, yelling, splashing water, all while the music was blaring. Joseph and Podlesny would both miss to the left, but Carlson would make his before being swarmed by his teammates.

“Obviously, that doesn’t happen during a game so it’s not really game-like but, still, got to do better on each kick,” said Joseph. “Put together a good day before then; just didn’t see my eyes fully through on that one. Got to get better.”

Joseph is currently wearing the No. 2, just as Mason Crosby did for all those years. It wasn’t Joseph’s choice, it was the number handed to him when he arrived, but he did speak to Crosby about it, and got to go-ahead to wear it.

“We’ll see what happens when I make the team, jersey-wise,” Joseph said.

If Joseph is going to be the Packers’ kicker this season, he’ll have to outperform Carlson and Podlesny over the summer. However, Joseph isn’t all that concerned with how each of them is performing. Instead, his sole focus is on himself and controlling what Greg Joseph does.

“That’s where I really learned to focus on me,” said Joseph on his past experiences with kicking competitions. “Some guys might thrive off watching other people kick. I thrive in being in my own world because that’s where I really learn it’s me vs. me and focus on what I do and to get better on what I do each and every day, because that’s the only thing I can control.

“I don’t control what they do or anything outside of what Greg Joseph does kicking-wise.”

Motivated AJ Dillon ready to fill whatever role Packers need from him

By: Paul Bretl 6/5/24

As uncertainty surrounded AJ Dillon’s offseason with his future with the Packers up in the air as a pending free agent, Dillon focused on what he could control, and that was putting in the work.

Through the now three OTA practices that have been open to the media, Dillon appears to be a bit slimmer, while still maintaining his muscle mass, and as he put it, is in the best shape of his life.

“I think it was big getting him back,” said running backs coach Ben Sirmans. “I think when you look at the way we played towards the end of the season, I think that’s the guy that you’re going to get – a guy that’s going to play with that type of urgency, that type of attitude and besides that, I’m glad we have him back because he helps Josh out tremendously, especially in learning some of the different things we do within this offense.”

“But it’s been great having him back from that standpoint because now he’s taken hold of being one of the leaders. I said, now you’re one of the older guys on offense, so I think he’s taken hold of that in terms of his leadership and just the way he’s been working. This is as hard as I’ve seen him work in the offseason.”

With Dillon looking a bit leaner, that hopefully allows for more burst from him with the ball in his hands. Although he’s proven to be reliable in really every facet of the game, there has been a lack of playmaking ability when he has the ball.

By Dillon’s own admission, and Sirmans has agreed, there are times when Dillon is overthinking on the field, and rather than reacting to what’s happening and letting his natural abilities take over, he’s pressing, which can slow him down.

Last season, Dillon’s play did improve as the year went on. Through Dillon’s first seven games, he averaged 3.13 yards per rush with only one game where he averaged more than 4.0 yards per attempt. During his final eight games, he averaged 3.73 yards per carry with four games over 4.0 yards per rush.

But, when it was all said and done, he would still average only 3.4 yards per rush attempt. Dillon’s eight carries of 10-plus yards ranked 47th out of 58 eligible running backs. He also ranked 42nd in average yards after contact, which is supposed to be his calling card as a physical back.

“I’ve got a bunch of motivation but it’s all internal,” said Dillon. “I’m in the best shape of my life. I feel good so I’m ready to do whatever it takes. I want to go win a Super Bowl. I’ve been here – this is Year 5 now. We’ve been close. That’s really it. I’m going to go out, work and I’m going to be a dog in whatever capacity on game day. That’s it. Motivation? I’ve got it. Discipline? I’ve got it. I’m here and trying to be great.”

Whoever ends up as the primary second running back behind Josh Jacobs, the Packers need more juice from that position this season. When defenses don’t fear the run game, it drastically changes how they defend the offense. Specifically, it makes moving the ball through the air more challenging and can take away play-action opportunities.

Dillon will be competing with Marshawn Lloyd for that playing time, and the Packers also have Emanuel Wilson as well. From the sounds of it, Lloyd is already going to be a factor in the offense, with offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich recently saying that he “would like to get him out there as much as possible.”

However, even if that’s the case, that doesn’t mean Dillon can’t carve out a role in some capacity, whether that be as a third-down back in to pass protect, a ball carrier in certain situations, or even as an H-back, a role that Sirmans believes Dillon could fill. For what it’s worth at this time of the year, throughout OTAs, Dillon has still seen his fair share of opportunities with the starting offense.

Dillon is back in Green Bay on a one-year deal that comes with only a $167,500 dead cap hit if the Packers were to release him–so he is far from a roster lock. But with that said, there is certainly value in the leadership he brings, his familiarity with the offense, and his reliability as a ball carrier, pass-catcher, and blocker.

A strong offseason can be a catalyst towards improved play during the regular season, and while it’s still early, Dillon appears to be on that path. Some added burst and decisiveness to his already well-rounded skill set could help him level up in 2024.

“I envision going out there and balling out every time I’m on the field,” added Dillon. “Whatever that is, that’s for the coaches to decide. Like I said, I’m putting myself in the best position possible, in great shape, working, trying to lead, trying to cross my T’s and dot my I’s.

“Whether that’s special teams, running back, receiver, tight end, fullback, kicker, quarterback, I’m down to do whatever. I’m happy to be here. Like I said, I’m just going to put my helmet on and go to work.”

Packers ‘interchangeable’ safeties were on display during third OTA practice

By: Paul Bretl 6/4/24

Whenever GM Brian Gutekunst was asked to describe what he wanted at the safety position this offseason, the one word that continued to pop up was “interchangeable.” 

 “It really helps your defense to be multiple and flexible so teams can’t get a bead on what you’re doing,” Gutekunst said back in February. “So, in a perfect world, quite frankly, between the two safeties and the nickel, those three guys almost need to be interchangeable completely.” 

 Free agent signee Xavier McKinney filled a variety or roles during his time with the New York Giants—playing deep, in the box, and in the slot. Third-round pick Javon Bullard spent ample time in the slot and as the deep safety at Georgia, while the Packers believe that fourth-round pick Evan Williams can fill a similar role as Bullard with his movement skills.

During Tuesday’s third OTA practice that was open to the media, we saw the interchangeability that this trio possesses on display. From play-to-play, McKinney, Bullard, and Williams all filled different roles on the back end of the defense. This included slot and free safety snaps for Bullard, with McKinney and Williams both lining up deep and in the box.

There were also several instances where all three were on the field together, and there was a good amount of post-snap movement as well, with the safeties changing their positioning once the ball was snapped. 

“I like to say this is the best group that I’ve been apart of since I’ve been in the league and that’s from me to whoever the last person is,” said McKinney about the safety room. It don’t matter. I think everybody’s done a great job. 

“I think the talent level in our room is out of this roof. And it’s just going to be fun to play with these guys because everybody is smart. So we all working off of each other and we’re able to build off of each other and compete with each other and make each other better.” 

Adding this level of versatility among multiple players to the safety position generates a layer of unpredictability to the Packers’ defense. Pre-snap, opposing offenses won’t be able to necessarily get a beat on what responsibility each player has or where they might end up as the play unfolds based solely upon who is on the field or where each safety is initially lined up. 

From a game-planning perspective, this feature also opens up the playbook for Jeff Hafely, who has the flexibility to change things up from week-to-week depending on the opponent and what the Packers want to take away. 

Along with the versatility that this unit possesses, and the schematic advantages of that, there is also a fast and physical play-style that the Packers now have in their revamped safety room. This is a ball-hawking group that flies to the football and is more than willing to help in the run game.

“I think we could be really special,” said McKinney of the Packers’ defense. “I think he’s going to allow us to be really aggressive, a defense that can create a lot of turnovers, and just play with our instincts. 

“I think that’s the biggest part is just letting everybody have a personality about themselves, doing it obviously within the defense. Obviously we’re building right now, but I know eventually we’ll get to the point where he’ll give us the keys and let us do our thing, and we’ll just go off of his call, but I think the sky’s the limit for us as a defense.”

Improved play from the Packers’ defense as a whole will have to include a greater playmaking presence on the back-end. Last season, the Packers generated the second-fewest interceptions, ranked 23rd in pass deflections, with opposing quarterbacks averaging the ninth-most yards per pass attempt against them.

At the end of the day, players have to make plays when the opportunity presents itself, but given the versatile safety room that Gutekunst has built coupled with Hafley’s defense, some of the heavy lifting is going to be done pre-snap, helping to keep the quarterback off-balanced and perhaps, to a degree, guessing.

“Speaking to that,” said defensive backs coach Ryan Downard about the versatility at safety, “like Seattle, for example, they had a guy, Earl (Thomas), who was traditionally in the post, and Kam (Chancellor) was in the box, but you go back and watch their point of attacks, Kam’s got some reps in the post, too. So they both could do both things. 

“Again, I just think in terms of preparation, you can’t always say OK this guy’s always going to be the one that’s rolling down into the box and he’s rotating to the post if he’s showing depth. I just think there’s an advantage not only from a game-planning standpoint but then I just think the things you’re able to do with the players – like if you have a guy that can cover and tackle, that’s obviously better than a guy that can just cover or can just tackle. Might be a little greedy on my part, but that’s what we’re striving to get.”

Observations and Takeaways from Packers final OTA practice

By: Paul Bretl 6/4/24

The Green Bay Packers held their final OTA practice that was open to the media on Tuesday. Next week, mandatory minicamp will take place June 11-13, and then the team will break until they reconvene in mid-July for training camp.

As always, here are my takeaways and observations from the OTA practice:

Perfect attendance: All 91 players on the Packers roster were in attendance in some capacity. Zach Tom, Tyler Davis, Kitan Oladapo, and Tucker Kraft were still not practicing. For the first time, Jaire Alexander wasn’t practicing either. We have not received an update as to why. Alex McGough returned after dropping out of the first practice two weeks ago, but he again dropped out this week.

Lukas Van Ness was back on the practice field after missing last week with a “little bit” of a broken thumb. Afterward, Matt LaFleur said he was excited about Van Ness, and mentioned many pass rushers take a “huge jump” in their second NFL season. Playing with his hand in the dirt in Jeff Hafley’s 4-3 defense will be familiar to him, after spending most of his career at Iowa playing that way.

I can’t sit here with certainty and say that AJ Dillon is slimmer following the offseason, but from a distance he looks that way while still being quite strong. During a pass-catching drill, his burst as he turned up field was impressive. 

The starting offensive line consisted of Rasheed Walker at left tackle, followed by Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers, Sean Rhyan, and Jordan Morgan. While things can still change, Walker appears to be the clear No. 1 option at left tackle through OTAs. Along with playing right tackle, Morgan played left guard as well. 

GM Brian Gutekunst frequently used the word ‘interchangeable’ this offseason to describe the safety position. Well, we saw that on display today with Xavier McKinney, Javon Bullard, and Evan Williams being moved all over the field. There were also plenty of three-safety looks from the defense today as well. During the first practice, Bullard and Williams worked strictly with the second and third defenses. Last week, they saw time with that group and the starters. Today, they were with the starters.

The special teams units are featuring a fair number of offensive and defensive starters at this time. This was a unit that again ranked as one of the worst in football by Rick Gosselin’s annual rankings. Once again, Daniel Whelan was quite impressive. This time last year we could see the big leg, but as Rich Bisaccia talked about over the course of last season, he’s got a better understanding of where his teammates will be, the type of kick to make, the direction, and more. 

We knew this watching last year’s offense, but there are what feels like limitless combinations at receiver that Matt LaFleur can utilize. One combination that featured Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks out wide and Bo Melton in the slot ended in a 75 yard touchdown pass to Melton who got behind Eric Stokes and Anthony Johnson. After practice, LaFleur spoke very highly of Melton, and what he bring to the offense, both as a pass catcher and run blocker. 

The versatility and the athleticism that the Packers have built along the offensive line could result in more opportunities to get blockers in space. We saw that a bit today as the Packers were clearly working on toss plays. Speaking of which, on one of those toss plays, Edgerrin Cooper blew it up in the backfield. A terrific display of his speed and ability to diagnose.

The linebacker position: As of now, Quay Walker appears to be the favorite to be the Mike and wear the green dot. When the Packers are in base, Walker is in the Middle, with Eric Wilson to his left and Isaiah McDuffie to his right. When the Packers were in nickel, Cooper was quickly rotated in. 

Overall, it was a sound performance from all three kickers. Jack Podlesney finished the day 5-for-7. Greg Joseph was 6-for-7, as was Anders Carlson. To finish practice, all three kickers attempted field goals from 53 yards with their teammates closely huddled around them and yelling while the music blared. Podlesney and Joseph would both miss left, but Carlson would make his. 

Sean Clifford in the two-minute drill: Practice again ended with a two-minute period. The offense was at their own 25-yard line and had a 1:30 on the clock. The defense dominated this matchup, with Clifford struggling to find anywhere to go with the ball while the pass rush closed in. We also saw the defense mix some blitzes in as well. The drive went four-and-out.

Jordan Love in the two-minute drill: In the same scenario as Clifford, Love led the offense into field goal range, with Carlson and Joseph each making the 57-yarder, while Podlesney missed. Love was very poised and in control, taking what the defense gave him as he stacked up nine and 10-yard completions. 

Michael Pratt in the two-minute drill: This was another victory for the defense. Pratt finished the drive 1-for-4 with a drop from Malik Heath over the middle, ending the series. 

Accomplished RB Josh Jacobs still believes there’s more to prove on Packers

By: Paul Bretl 6/3/24

Josh Jacobs comes to the Green Bay Packers as a very accomplished running back, however, now on a new team, Jacobs still believes that he has plenty to prove.

The desire for Jacobs to show what he can do is twofold. Although Jacobs is a former All-Pro, NFL rushing leader, and team captain for the Raiders, those accolades are just that, accolades, even though they are impressive ones. His new teammates didn’t see the work that went into playing at that high level or what it took to earn the respect of his former teammates.

Jacobs wants to be a leader on this young Packers team but knows that is an honor that’s earned and not just handed out, regardless of what a player has done at their previous stops. So, as Jacobs nurses a hamstring injury during voluntary OTAs, is it a requirement that he be on the practice field, or is doing so a prerequisite for a successful season? Not really. But Jacobs is out to prove that he has the right mentality and work ethic to be a leader.

“Yeah, I do,” said Jacobs when asked if he needs to be on the practice field. “Because these guys haven’t seen me on the day to day. Sometimes you see the end result, but you don’t see the work it takes to get there. Like I said, trying to be a leader on this team with this young group, and I feel like you’ve got to show and prove a certain mentality, certain demeanor and certain work ethic, for a lot of guys that want to take that next step. Especially with being there before, a lot of guys don’t really know how to do that.

“I tell people all the time, having Davante Adams come to the Raiders was the best thing for me, because I seen a player be great, and I seen a player be great on a day to day basis, so for me, that’s what I try to bring.”

As much as Jacobs has accomplished during the regular season, he hasn’t had the opportunity to do the same in the playoffs. During Jacobs five years with the Raiders, he made the playoffs only one time, when Rich Bisaccia was the interim head coach in 2021.

Jacobs would impress, as he often does, carrying the ball 13 times at 6.4 yards per attempt in that playoff loss. But to Jacobs, he judges talent on how a player performs when it matters most, and 13 career playoff carries at this point in his career haven’t allowed him to meet the standards that he’s set for himself, and in order to get to that point, it requires the team to win games.

“For me, when you judge, when I judge let me say that, when I judge running backs or just players in general, it’s like OK, yeah you can be good, but are you good when it matters?” said Jaocbs. “When it matters the most? In the biggest moments, in the biggest games, that’s where you leave your mark.

“Being a guy that has a lot of history and especially with the Raiders program, in the top three in almost every category since I’ve been there, it doesn’t really mean nothing because we didn’t win. Being able to leave a legacy is something that I think about now, being older. Playing playoff football and obviously trying to get a ring is the only thing that’s really on my mind.”

If needed, Jacobs can handle a heavy workload as a ball carrier, but he also brings a natural pass-catching ability to the running back position as well. Over five seasons with the Raiders, he was targeted in the passing game 249 times, and as Jacobs told Matt LaFleur when he first arrived to Green Bay, he believes he has more to offer in that regard.

Beyond the prerequisite of making plays as a ball carrier, the running back’s ability to not only impact the passing game but be moved around the formation is an important element of LaFleur’s offense as it can create mismatches for the running back to exploit, along with one-on-one opportunities in space, where Jacobs has excelled. During his All-Pro 2022 season, he ranked 11th in average yards after contact and first in missed tackles forced.

Jacobs could also benefit from being in an offense that features a potent passing game led by Jordan Love. The trickle-down effect of that to Jacobs is potentially facing more light boxes than what he’s been accustomed to as oftentimes the focal point of the opponent’s game plan.

“The thing that I like the most is how diverse it is—especially for me,” said Jacobs of LaFleur’s offense. “Like, we can line up wide, we can do dual backs, they have certain packages of personnel that allow me to win, put me in space and be able to win in space. And as a running back that’s all you ask for, get your 1-on-1 matchups and that’s where you can show how special you are.”

Following the Packers and Raiders Week 5 matchup last season, Jacobs said that he kept tabs on Green Bay for the remainder of the season, intrigued by the young, ascending talent this team had.

Now in Green Bay and a member of this Packers’ culture, Jacobs says the environment “brings a little juice back to you.” The all-football, all-the-time atmosphere reminds him of his college days at Alabama. And just as Jacobs did back then during his days in Tuscaloosa, where he developed into an eventual first-round pick, he still believes he has more to prove.

“I think that’s because the guys are so young,” said Jacobs on the similarities between the Packers and Alabama. “The guys that are older, the vets that are proven, like RG (Rashan Gary) and P (Preston Smith) and all these guys, they’re the type of guys that’s like they’re still going to go work and be humble. When you’ve got a young group that wants to make a name for themselves, you’ve got a group of guys that’s got a little edge, and they’re willing to listen and willing to do a little bit more, a little bit extra than normal.

“I think that’s just the special thing about this place. You’ve got a lot of group of young guys, like the receiving corps is crazy man. I’m so excited just watching them. Any one of them can go at any moment. We had that talk with them about taking the next step, who’s going to be the guy, who’s going to be the guy to step up and the man that wants a spot. I think we have a really good group, and I look forward to this season.”

Back to the basics for Packers QB Jordan Love during OTAs

By: Paul Bretl 6/3/24

As Jordan Love strives to further elevate his play following an impressive end to the 2023 season, the focus for him is on the basics. Specifically, his attention is on refining his footwork and enhancing his pocket presence, crucial elements for a quarterback’s success.

“There’s always little things,” said Love on what he’s working on. “I think the biggest thing for me is just staying poised in the pocket, being able to say balanced in the pocket. Sometimes I get out of whack with my feet and I might start drifting in the pocket too much. Just pocket awareness, making smaller moves and understanding when I’ve got to get out of there.”

Footwork is the foundation for a quarterback’s success on any given play. As quarterbacks coach Tom Clements has said previously, he usually has a good idea of how the pass turned out by watching the quarterback’s footwork.

Footwork, the cornerstone of a quarterback’s performance, is more than just steps. It’s about executing the right drop to ensure timely throws, maintaining balance, and keeping the feet in constant motion. This synchronized movement with the quarterback’s eyes is crucial for a successful play. Any deviation from this can disrupt the quarterback’s mechanics, leading to inaccurate passes or mistimed plays.

This focus on footwork isn’t anything new for Love. Since Clements arrived in Green Bay, footwork has been the focal point of his teachings, and Love has made significant strides already. However, proper footwork extends beyond just being in the pocket. In today’s NFL, making off-schedule throws on the move is a must as well.

“Also throwing on the run,” said Love when further describing what he’s been working on. “Being able to escape the pocket and make those off-schedule plays is something I worked a good amount on.

“Also, just being comfortable, seeing the defense, going back and watching the tape, seeing things I could have done different with picking up protections and things I wasn’t doing earlier on that I started being able to pick up on later in the season. But I think the biggest thing for me is just pocket movement, making smaller movements.”

In addition to the individual drills that the quarterbacks go through, Matt LaFleur has heavily utilized 7-on-7 periods during OTAs to help further emphasize the footwork element at the quarterback position. LaFleur has made it known he is not a fan of 7-on-7 drills, largely because there isn’t a pass rush, but the focus right now is on having “perfect feet,” and this drill helps accomplish that.

“I’m not a fan of that,” LaFleur said of the 7-on-7 drills. “I just think it’s not realistic. It puts the quarterback, you know, I like the quarterbacks having to feel a rush.

“But what we’re making a big emphasis on is [having] perfect feet. Making sure the guys go through their progressions, having perfect feet and when they’re not, they hear about it. I just think, again, offseason, where we’re at, new defense, it’s important for them to understand the drops that we want them to take, so we implemented it.”

As has been established, footwork is the foundation – pun intended – for a quarterback’s success, and without the proper execution of it, the play is potentially doomed from the start. While that element will set Love up for success, the schematic test for Love and the Packers’ offense as a whole this season will be showing that they can counter the counters.

Opposing defenses have now had a full offseason to look back and digest Love’s tape. They’ve been able to really examine what he does well and where he struggles and will undoubtedly come up with game plans that try to take away the former while putting him in scenarios that exacerbate the latter.

“You might anticipate a defense maybe bringing a little more pressure,” said Clements. “Disguising a little bit more. Making it more difficult to see where to go. So that’s from a quarterback standpoint, if that happens you have to have a lot of film study and be able to react.

“I mean that was one of Aaron’s (Rodgers) best attributes is the he could process information very quickly and usually make the right decision and get the ball where it had to go. That’s something that we’ll have to see how defenses approach it, but that’s something you’ve got to be ready for.”

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, it’s obviously important that Love and the offense counter these adjustments thrown at them but also do so somewhat quickly. Taking a week or two to adjust can have a big impact on potential playoff seeding. Instead, these counters need to be made on the fly.

With the experience Love has gained over the last year, his ability to process the play as it’s unfolding has improved as has his overall comfortability with the offense and the players around him. These will be key factors when it comes to countering the counters, as will his footwork when under duress. 

Ultimately, Love can diagnose the play perfectly, but if his footwork, and subsequently his mechanics, are off, then the odds of the play turning out successfully have already taken a potentially large hit.

Packers rookie Jordan Morgan playing musical chairs along OL during OTAs

By: Paul Bretl 6/2/24

Two of the Green Bay Packers’ OTA practices over the last two weeks have been open to the media, and we’ve already seen rookie Jordan Morgan lining up at three different positions along the offensive line.

During the first OTA practice that was open to the media, Morgan lined up at both the right and left tackle positions and didn’t begin with the starting offense. Then, during the second OTA practice that was open to the media, Morgan was playing left guard with Elgton Jenkins not present.

“I wouldn’t say he’s a tackle, I wouldn’t say he’s a guard,” said offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich, “I just wanna see where he fits best for us and with our best five out there. So that may be at tackle. It might not be, but I’m excited to work with him and you can see his athleticism when he’s out there. He’s a pretty talented guy.”

Every one of Morgan’s snaps on the offensive line in college came at left tackle–that’s nearly 2,400 in total. But as GM Brian Gutekunst mentioned during the draft, with Morgan’s quick feet and his strength, they believe he can play guard as well.

That, however, is just a projection at this time, given that Morgan doesn’t have any college game experience playing along the interior. So, not only is Morgan adjusting to a new playbook and the play-speed at the NFL level, but he’s also playing a new position and a different side of the line that he’s not accustomed to.

“It’s a little bit extra,” said Morgan on playing different positions. “A little more studying and extra film work and extra on-field stuff. It helps a lot. It’s easy to pick up, just like I said, flip it. It makes it easier.”

As we all know when it comes to the offensive line, the Packers’ goal is to put the “best five” on the field. But, in order to do that, there needs to be an understanding of how each player performs at various positions.

So it’s not only Morgan who is doing the learning but the Packers’ coaching staff is learning about Morgan to figure out where he fits best within the offensive line unit–a process that will continue through the final week of OTAs and into training camp before we potentially see Morgan finding one position to focus on.

“Very excited about it,” said Stenavich on the versatility of the offensive line unit. “I think it’s just a matter of putting the best group out there and there’s a lot of different combinations, like I said, that we’ll see. We’ll see how it all shakes out.

“That’s one thing we’re always pretty intentional about is working guys at multiple positions to just see where they fit best. I think that’s kind of what we’ll be doing in OTAs and the early part of camp.”

When it comes to putting the best collective offensive line unit on the field, that doesn’t necessarily mean that each player is lined up at the position they are best at. When it comes to offensive line play, the sum of the parts is greater than any individual player or two.

For example, an All-Pro right tackle coupled with a below-averaged left side of the line equates to a so-so offensive line unit. So, in determining where Morgan will end up, it may not be where he’s at his best but, instead, where the unit as a whole is at its best.

“We’re trying to give him as many reps as possible,” said Matt LaFleur. “We’re rotating a lot of guys through all the positions. That’s just kind of how we train these guys.”

As expected, it’s not only Morgan who is being moved around. Without Zach Tom available as he deals with a pec injury, we’ve also seen Andre Dillard and Caleb Jones take some starting snaps at right tackle. Sean Rhyan as primarily played right guard but took a few snaps at center this past week, while Royce Newman has played both guard spots as well.

With Jenkins at left guard, Tom probably the right tackle – unless he’s moved inside – and Morgan not being asked to play center, if Morgan is going to start come Week 1, it’ll be at left tackle or right guard. As of now, we haven’t seen him taking any starting reps ahead of Rhyan at right guard. Also, not to be forgotten about in all of this is Rasheed Walker, who is as confident as ever and has been the Packers’ starting left tackle in these two practices.

We are still a ways off before anything has to be finalized, and a lot can change once training camp begins and the intensity is cranked up a few notches. So, for the time being, we can expect to see Morgan filling a variety of roles as the Packers search for where he is the best fit amongst the group. And while this is asking a lot of a rookie in his first month with the team, the Packers wouldn’t do that if they didn’t think Morgan could handle it.

“Just how smooth he makes it look,” said offensive line coach Luke Butkus about Morgan. “Just the way he runs off the ball, his athleticism, just being able to mirror guys. Even this weekend, we weren’t hitting guys, we weren’t going through defenders, just the way he glides and moves on the field right now, just that athleticism that he shows, it’s pretty cool to see.”

Keep your eyes on Packers DE Deslin Alexandre this summer

By: Paul Bretl 5/31/24

Everyone loves the under-the-radar player to watch for during this time of the year. So, one name I’ll put out there is defensive end Deslin Alexandre, who had an impressive day during the Packers’ OTA practice on Wednesday.

The Packers concluded Wednesday’s practice with an end-of-half two-minute period for the first, second, and third string offensive and defensive units. This was the first practice during OTAs where the Packers had an 11-on-11 team period that took place at full-speed.

With Preston Smith and Rashan Gary not present and Lukas Van Ness sidelined with a thumb injury, the Packers found themselves shorthanded at defensive end. This resulted in some additional opportunities for Alexandre that he took advantage of.

Alexandre was on the field with the second and third units and produced a “sack” during each of those two-minute periods. From my vantage point, it appeared that Alexandre won with speed on those two reps. 

Now, of course, in a real game environment, getting to the quarterback is step No. 1, but finishing the play is the second part of the equation. We will never know if that would have happened, but he was right there to make a play on the quarterback, which would have resulted in two huge plays for the defense during those two-minute drills.

The Packers signed Alexandre to a futures contract back in January. He went undrafted in 2023 out of Pittsburgh and initially signed with the New York Jets. He was released by the Jets following training camp and spent some time on the Chicago Bears practice squad.

Alexandre is a good athlete, posting a RAS of 8.41 during the pre-draft process. He played 1,767 snaps over five seasons at Pitt, almost all of which came lined up as a traditional edge rusher. His 2022 season was his most productive, recording 27 pressures and seven sacks. By PFF’s metrics, Alexandre was a reliable tackler throughout his career and solid against the run.

“Alexandre is an edge defender who relies on his broad frame and natural power,” wrote NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein in his pre-draft report. “He’s long and naturally heavy handed, but he will need to play with much better bend to improve his ability to hold the point against the run.

“While he’s a segmented mover at times, he does have quick feet and shows decent pursuit quickness and motor. He’s a face-up rusher who is unlikely to beat NFL opponents with crafty moves and counters, so fortifying his power rush will be critical as a Day 3 possibility for 4-3 defenses.”

In February of 2023, Alexandre won the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year, an award presented to the football player “who best demonstrates an outstanding record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity, and sportsmanship.”

“I don’t think there are enough superlatives to describe Deslin and his achievements while at the University of Pittsburgh,” Pitt head football coach Pat Narduzzi said. “His impact as a student, athlete and community leader is so inspiring. He represents the absolute best of what it means to be a Pitt Panther. Deslin has given Pitt so many reasons to be proud and I know he will make the Witten family proud as the recipient of this outstanding award.”

In the grand scheme of it all, it was one practice in late May when the pads weren’t on. If Alexandre is going to make a real roster push, he’ll have to build upon this performance and continue to deliver during training camp, where the intensity is much higher.

At best, there is just one defensive end spot up for grabs on the 53-man roster if we assume the Packers are going to keep five. Competing for that spot will be Brenton Cox, Arron Mosby, and Keshawn Banks.

Packers rookie QB Michael Pratt impresses during Wednesday’s OTA practice

By: Paul Bretl 5/31/24

It was only one practice that took place in late May, well before the pads even come on, but one of the standout players on Wednesday was rookie quarterback Michael Pratt and his performance in the two-minute drill.

Up until this point, all of the 11-on-11 team periods that had taken place over the last two weeks of OTAs were done at a pace a little bit faster than a walkthrough. So not only was this Pratt’s first time running the two-minute offense, but it was his first time where everything was moving at full speed.

“It was awesome,” said Pratt of the two-minute period. “I think it was definitely a little bit, not nerve-wracking, but today I kind of learned the whole two-minute operation this morning about an hour before we went out there and did it.

“So at first I was kind of like, alright, I’ve got to figure it out, but getting to watch the first two groups go and getting mental reps in the midst of that definitely helped a lot, and then once I got out there it was kind of just fluid, and everyone was doing their job.”

To wrap up Wednesday’s practice, the Packers’ first, second, and third team units went through an end-of-half two-minute situation. The offense had 1:30 left on the clock and were starting at thier own 25-yard line.

Pratt led the third-team offense into field goal range, which Anders Carlson was able to connect on from 46 yards. Pratt finished the drive, completing 5-of-9 passes for 46 yards, and from my vantage point, it looked like two of those incompletions would have been classified as drops.

However, beyond the numbers that don’t mean a whole lot this time of the year, what stood out most was the process of it all. Playing full-speed, Pratt appeared poised in the pocket, he was mostly accurate, and got the ball out quickly, knowing exactly where to go with it.

In the past, we’ve heard Matt LaFleur mention ‘letting it rip,’ when he’s discussing what he wants to see from Jordan Love or Sean Clifford. This doesn’t mean being overly aggressive or throwing the ball downfield just for the sake of doing so, but rather, being confident in what you see and the quarterback getting the ball out of his hands. On Wednesday, Pratt was letting it rip.

“Definitely slowing down,” said Pratt on the speed of the game. “I think this week, you know, yesterday and today, I think everything’s really started to slow down a little bit. I feel like I’m at the point now where rookie minicamp and first week it was like hearing the whole call and it’s like thinking about the formation, thinking about the motion, thinking about the protection, thinking about the concept, like now once I get the call, I can kind of visualize the formation and the motion together.

“Think about the protection a little bit because I might need to change it and then the concept, now that I know the formation, it’s X this or Z this. I think it’s definitely starting to click a lot better and I’m able to operate a little faster and able to play a little bit faster.”

Adding to Pratt’s performance was the fact that, as he mentioned, he had roughly an hour to take what he learned in the classroom that morning, absorb it, and then go execute on it on the practice field.

This isn’t an unusual process at this stage of the NFL offeseason, and every player had the same task. However, we often hear the phrase ‘drinking from a firehose’ during this time of the year for incoming rookies, and this is a prime example of that.

It’s also a glimpse into one reason why the transition from college to the NFL is such a big leap, particularly at the quarterback position. Pratt, of course, needs to know what he has to execute on, but in order to do that, he has to know everyone else’s responsibility while also deciphering what the defense is doing, and he has a short amount of time to figure all of that out.

“Just trying to lock in and memorize the most that you can, especially the important parts,” said Pratt on how he processed what he had just learned. “It’s all important but there’s some key details that you really have to memorize.

“So, just trying to prioritize that and remember as much as I can and same thing I was saying to them just learn from my mistakes and continue to get better every day.”

As I wrote about following the draft, the Packers decision to select Pratt was more so about getting back to the drafting and developing process at the quarterback position, more so than feeling that they needed to find an upgrade over Clifford. By all accounts, Clifford made strides and performed well in his role last season, with quarterbacks coach Tom Clements expecting a “big jump” from Clifford in his second season.

With that said, if Pratt does end up pushing Clifford during training camp, the Packers aren’t going to shy away from competition either. Having that element in every position room has been a focus this offseason for GM Brian Gutekunst.

At the end of the day, it was one practice, and the next step for Pratt is to build upon that performance through the remainder of OTAs and into minicamp. However, especially given the circumstances, it was an impressive performance, nonetheless.

“Just continuing to learn every single day,” said Pratt. “Mistakes are going to be made at every position – by rookies, by vets – but once you make that mistake, learn from it and don’t make the same mistake again.

“There’s a lot of things that are being thrown at us, especially all the rookies. Having to learn so many different things – for a=mations, motions, protections, cadences. There’s so much more than just the play itself. So, just trying to take it all in and getting better every day. I think that’s the most important part.”