GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – As training camp continues and the season quickly approaches, Local 5’s Sports Director Burke Griffin answers five big questions regarding the Green Bay Packers.
#1. The Summer of Love and “Wobbly” Balls
When training camp rolls around, it’s no secret that the defense almost always has an advantage against the offense early on during practice. Reading and reacting is much easier than developing timing and chemistry.
On Thursday, the guys with the football finally got the upper hand, and as a result, those wearing green jerseys had to do up-downs at the end of practice for the first time. It’s just a tiny step in the right direction for Jordan Love and company, but it will eventually balance itself out regarding which side of the football has a better day at practice.
During OTA’s, Matt LaFleur was asked about how his current QB1 throws the football, especially when rolling out to his left and throwing against “the grain,” and the Packers head coach said,” I’ve seen some pretty good throws throughout the course of my career in this league, namely a guy like Peyton Manning. He was pretty good, and his ball wasn’t always the tightest, but he did a great job. It’s about just being accurate, throwing on time, and making the right decisions. Putting the ball in the right spot. And so, I’ve been encouraged — especially, I would say over the course of this last week, one of the things that we’ve kind of talked about in that room is just how important… it’s really the process of playing quarterback.”
The great irony is that Manning was in Titletown this week and attended practice on Tuesday. LaFleur has been around long enough to have faced the Hall of Famer, and if there is one lesson he can learn from him and pass on to Love, you have to play until the final whistle.
“I’ve had the experience as a coach going against him,” LaFleur said. “The lessons I’ve learned as a coach when you go against him, you never forget. I told the team this: In 2008, I was with the Houston Texans, and we’re playing Indy; we’re up 17 late in the fourth quarter, and we watched this guy bring his team back and beat us in a two-minute drive. They scored 21 points, basically, in about a five-minute span. It was a great lesson early in my coaching career that you’ve got to play until that clock says zero. I’ll never forget sitting in that press box when we’re up 27-10, thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to beat the Indianapolis Colts,’ only to see it evaporate quickly. It was a tough lesson to learn, but it was one of those things we all have to go through.”
2. Big Boy Battle
Everybody knows what David Bakhtiari brings to the table when he is healthy, and at 31 years old, he is now the oldest player on the offense. Load management has become a hot topic in the NBA, but it’s a simple fact in the NFL. The older you are, the harder it is to recover from intense practice, especially from games.
The former All-Pro player has missed out on a lot of training camp, which is completely fine, given his experience and talent. But if he can’t go, for whatever reason, there could be some shuffling on the offensive line. It would appear that all three interior spots are set with Elton Jenkins, Josh Myers, and Jon Runyan Jr. Yosh Nijman should be the answer at right tackle.
However, Bakhtiari’s absence could change things up quite a bit if Nijman has to move to left tackle. Then you have a void at right tackle, and the versatility shown by Zach Tom gives the Packers more options up front.
He would also be a viable option at about any offensive line position. Being a swing tackle is a massive luxury for any offense, and both Nijman and Tom allow the Packers plenty of flexibility at this point.
#3 Who’s got the edge?
Rashan Gary has been at training camp, but there isn’t an accurate timeline for his return after having ACL surgery. Optimistically? Season opener. Realistically? The Broncos game after the bye week.
Gary tore his ACL at Detroit on November 6 of last season, and it’s possible that he could be on the field at Chicago on September 10 for the opener, but even he knows that it’s a work in progress.
“The toughest part, man, I would say I’ve really been handling everything good. There really hasn’t been no tough part. I’ll tell you a very emotional day was my first steps because I’ve been getting better day by day. That’s where my head’s been, so nothing’s been hard on me,” Gary said during OTA’s. “I’ll be ready when I’ll be ready.”
Preston Smith can still get to the quarterback, but in Gary’s absence, the Packers have mostly gone with Kingsley Enagbare, Justin Hollins, and rookie Lukas Van Ness on the edge.
This year’s first-round pick will likely be “The Guy” when all is said and done, but each will contribute.
#4. Quay’s way or the highway?
Quay Walker has skills. He has size. He has speed. And he can play the game of football at a high level. But his solid rookie season was marred by several incidents involving issues from the neck “up.”
Walker was ejected twice last season, and they were both in pivotal primetime games. The first time was for shoving a non-dressed player against the Bills on Sunday Night Football in a 27-17 loss. The latter was in the season finale with a playoff berth at stake against the Lions at home when he pushed a Detroit team doctor.
Walker had a team-high 121 tackles, with 75 of them solo stops, five tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles, so it’s entirely fair to say his rookie season was a success. But the 2022 first-round pick knows he must “keep his cool” to be productive overall.
“I’m already prepared,” Walker said. “I know most teams will label me a hothead, so I kind of am already preparing for what’s going to happen and things like that. I’ve just got to be ready for everything that’s going to come. I know it’s going to come Week 1, with it being a rivalry game (in Chicago). Every week, teams will try to go at me, so I’m already preparing for it.”
Walker has also gone out of his way to control his temper by meeting with a team therapist.
“I just talked to myself, meditating as well, talking to Dr. Carr, just being more open, just going from there,” Walker said. “I was a person that was real, real closed in, with all my thoughts and everything like that, with the stuff I had going on, but that ain’t really got anything to do with what took place. But those were the things I did over the offseason to prepare me to not make those same mistakes over again.”
#5. Who’s holding the clipboard?
Obviously, those days are long gone with headsets, laminated play cards, and technology, but there are three realistic candidates to be Love’s backup. Danny Etling, who was with the team last year, rookie fifth-round pick Sean Clifford, and USFL MVP Alex McGough.
At this point, it seems the Packers will not go out and bring in a veteran to mentor Love.
“They all have a little bit of a different skill set, but they all have athleticism and the ability to make plays with their feet, which is important. As of right now, my mindset is, ‘Let’s see who comes out of that group,'” said Packers G.M. Brian Gutekunst. “You’ve seen each guy’s had their moments, which is good,” he said. “The preseason games, they’re going to get a lot of work. That should probably separate some things.”
It’s hard to believe that guys like Matt Flynn and Doug Pederson went from being backups to starting NFL QBs to being a backup again for the Packers, but sometimes that’s how things work. Mark Brunell and Matt Hasselbeck went on to be quality starters in the league, and who knows where those three guys will be someday. But unless Jordan Love gets hurt? It won’t be playing here in Green Bay.