GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers finished off their fourth day of training camp Sunday, which also happened to be their first in full pads.
With players getting Monday off from practice, here’s a look at what we’ve seen through the early portions of coach Matt LaFleur’s first camp.
1) LaFleur is staying heavily involved despite being in a walking boot, a result of him having surgery in June to repair a torn Achilles. He’s barely used the customized golf cart that he was confined to during the last part of the offseason practices. It’s allowed him to talk with Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the quarterbacks constantly after plays. On Sunday, after Rodgers hit running back Aaron Jones on an angle route during individual drills, the three men spent at least 45 seconds talking as the drill continued around them.
2) Rodgers doesn’t look much different running LaFleur’s offense than he did former coach Mike McCarthy’s. The ball doesn’t appear to be coming out of his hands any faster, and he’s still manipulating the pocket to gain time and extending plays with his legs. LaFleur, though, liked what he’s getting from the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
“That’s one thing I’ve always admired about him just watching him throughout the years,” LaFleur said of Rodgers ability to improvise. “He has a great feel. When the play is there in rhythm, he generally makes the play. That’s what the great ones do and he does that. But when it’s not there, he has that ability to create and extend.”
The Packers would love if Rodgers did not have to improvise as much, considering it opens him up to taking more hits. It’s possible, though unlikely, he’ll do less of it as he becomes more and more intrenched in the new system.
“I think he’s progressing each and every day. He’s feeling more comfortable,” LaFleur said. “We meet (for) a lot of hours every day and there’s a lot of good dialogue. We’re just continuing to build this offense.”
3) Rodgers called Davante Adams a top-three wide receiver in the game — at a minimum. The 26-year-old has looked the part early in camp. Seemingly everything that’s come his way has been caught — both the easy ones and the more difficult. His highlight play came Sunday when Rodgers targeted him deep in what turned into a 50-50 ball. Adams stopped on a dime and leaped over rookie cornerback Ka’dar Hollman to pluck the ball out of the air.
4) One of the stories coming into camp was all the young wide receivers on the roster bubble and which ones would stand out enough to grab the fourth, fifth and six spots at the position. So far, three of them — Trevor Davis, Jake Kumerow and J’Mon Moore — have turned some heads.
Always great in helmets and shorts, Davis has continued to make plays in the two days of pads.
“(For) him, it’s just about can you consistently do it, day in and day out,” LaFleur said Sunday. “And when we get to the preseason games, can that transition to the games.”
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) July 28, 2019
Kumerow, a fan favorite, had one of the plays of camp on Sunday. Rodgers saw one-on-one coverage from Hollman and went with a back shoulder fade to Kumerow down the sideline. The ball was right on target and Kumerow hauled it in despite Hollman being draped all over him.
“Jake’s a consistent guy that is extremely reliable,” LaFleur said. “You can trust that he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be within the timing of the play. And then he’s a big guy that can go up and make some plays on what we like to call 50-50 balls. That’s what you saw on that particular play.”
Moore struggled with drops as a rookie and did fumble a handoff Sunday. But his first three days were solid, especially Saturday, when he went up over cornerback Tony Brown to pull in a pass for a 20-yard gain.
5) Green Bay didn’t have a fullback on its roster to start the 2018 season. It appears not only will they have one in 2019, he could have a big role. That man is likely to be Dan Vitale. The first pass of camp in team drills was a designed play for him and he’s continued to show up when Rodgers has needed him. That was evident on Sunday when Rodgers was able to extend a play on third-and-long and find Vitale for a first down.
LaFleur has coached has part of three different staffs the last three years and all of them had a running back with 50 catches or more. The Packers, meanwhile, haven’t had a running back with at least 50 catches in a season since 2003. With Vitale and Jones, it’s possible that streak will come to an end this season.
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) July 26, 2019
6) Rookie Dexter Williams has some serious get-up-and-go to his game. It’s always tough to tell how successful a running play is when there is no tackling, but Williams ability to put his foot in the ground and burst through the line was evident on a pair of runs Saturday and Sunday. That said, LaFleur told reporters Williams tends to dance around too much at times and needs to better in pressing the hole on a consistent basis.
7) The Packers spent a ton of money and a first-round draft pick on improving their front seven in the offseason with the acquisitions of Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith and Rashan Gary. The trio has stood out, especially since the pads came on. In one-on-one pass rushing drills all three have winning records, including Gary going 5-1.
Some questioned the rookie’s motor coming out of Michigan, but general manager Brian Gutekunst was adamant the night they drafted him that they didn’t. Through four practices, their belief in him has been backed up.
“He’s done a lot of nice things,” LaFleur said. “The one thing I really like that he’s shown is just the effort that he plays with. The way we define that is you see a change of speed, a burst, then to max speed and the finish. He’s had some good clips to show to the team.”
The club also likes the versatility that all three give them, but especially Za’Darius Smith and Gary.
8) Injuries are a part of camp, but a number of guys that are in competitions for roster spots and/or playing time are missing valuable reps.
Rookie safety Darnell Savage is on the non-football illness list after having one of his wisdom teeth removed early last week. He said he’s coming along in his recovery and wants to be out there but it’s not up to him. LaFleur wouldn’t call the missed opportunities “worrisome” but they’d obviously like him back.
The same goes for Josh Jackson. The second-year cornerback is out with a foot injury and on the non-football injury list. After an up-and-down rookie season, Jackson had a strong offseason. But his absence is giving others chances of ripping playing time away from him.
The club would also obviously like to see Mason Crosby back on the field. He’s been out with a calf injury. In his absence, Sam Ficken hasn’t exactly inspired a ton of confidence, missing a pair of kicks from inside 40 yards on the first day of camp.
9) Music blares throughout practice, a new thing under LaFleur. It’s definitely better than the screaming of former special teams coach Ron Zook that roared over the speakers at times in years past. The goal, according to LaFleur, is to give the practice a little extra juice. It’s also having another benefit, forcing the offense to communicate through noise. Several times Rodgers has had to cover up his ear holes to hear the play call being radioed in from LaFleur’s walkie-talkie.
10) A few under the radar guys that have stood out at various points:
CB Ka’dar Hollman
DL Kingsley Keke
CB Chandon Sullivan
OT Alex Light
OL Cole Madison