Matt LaFleur grateful for his time with Aaron Rodgers, excited to see Packers rally around Jordan LoveWes Hodkiewicz
PHOENIX - Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur addressed the media at the NFC coaches' breakfast on Tuesday morning. Here are five things we learned:
1. LaFleur is grateful for his time working with Aaron Rodgers.
As the Packers work towards a trade with the New York Jets for Rodgers, LaFleur began his 30-minute media session by expressing his appreciation for the four seasons he coached the future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback.
The partnership helped lift Green Bay to 47 wins, three NFC North championships and two trips to the NFC title game. Green Bay's 2020 offense ranked first in the NFL in scoring, while Rodgers captured back-to-back MVP awards. With LaFleur serving as offensive play-caller, Rodgers completed 1,091 of 1,626 passes (67.1%) for 12,416 yards, 111 touchdowns and 13 interceptions (109.2 passer rating).
"I've got nothing but love and appreciation for what Aaron has done for so many in our organization," LaFleur said. "Obviously, have experienced a lot of great times together, won a lot of football games together. Ultimately, didn't bring home a Super Bowl, which will always be disappointing. He's done so much for myself, my family, our coaches' families, so many people within the organization, other players. A lot of people have been rewarded, quite frankly, because of his ability to go out there and play and play at such a high level."
2. Packers understand there will be a learning curve for Jordan Love.
After three years as Rodgers' understudy, Love stands on the precipice of being an NFL starting quarterback.
It's a role Love has been preparing for since Green Bay traded up to draft him in the first round (26th overall) during the 2020 NFL Draft. As excited as the Packers are about Love's long-term potential, they still plan to exercise patience with their young quarterback in his transition to the No. 1 job.
"It's going to be a different role for him, certainly, and I think we all have to temper our expectations for him," LaFleur said. "It's different when you're going into a game vs. when you're a starting game. It's going to be a process but it's going to be exciting for him, for us. ... It's going to be everybody rallying around him and trying to play at their best ability so that he can go out there and perform as good as he possibly can."
Love has only played in 10 career games with one spot start in 2021 against Kansas City after Rodgers was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list. It was a tough spot for a young quarterback and Love took some lumps in completing 19 of 34 passes for 190 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
One year later, the 24-year-old quarterback did a complete 180 when he stepped in for an injured Rodgers this past November against Philadelphia. LaFleur saw a more confident quarterback in the pocket, and it showed. Green Bay lost 40-33 but Love completed 6-of-9 passes for 113 yards and a TD in the second half.
Offensively, the Packers understand it will not be easy to move from a 39-year-old veteran who's seen and done it all to an up-and-coming, first-year starter. Green Bay also will have a young core around Love after losing receiver Allen Lazard and tight end Robert Tonyan during the initial wave of unrestricted free agency.
Love appears to be up for the challenge, though. He reportedly has spent time working out with Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones, and receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs this offseason.
"I think he's excited about the opportunity," LaFleur said. "I think going in there last year, particularly against Philly and having some success gave him some confidence and that's what you want and we're gonna have to try to do as much possible to have some early success and understand that there's going to be adversity along the way.
"The thing that I was optimistic about and that I'd really like to see is when he went in that game vs. Philly, you could tell he had so much poise and I thought that was just a big jump from when you saw him last vs. Kansas City."
3. Practicing against another team will be key to Love's growth.
LaFleur said the Packers are planning to once again practice against another NFL team in training camp. Under LaFleur, Green Bay previously hosted the Houston Texans (2019), New York Jets (2021) and New Orleans Saints (2022) for a pair of joint practices that culminated in a preseason game at Lambeau Field.
It's one part of the multifaceted plan LaFleur and the coaching staff have developed to ease Love into a starting role. The Packers also plan to keep players in the building closer to the four-hour daily maximum during organized team activities and are currently weighing how much Love will play during the preseason.
"We're definitely scheduled to practice against somebody in the preseason ... provided the NFL affords us that opportunity," LaFleur said. "We might have to take a little different approach in how we address the preseason and those games. Certainly, Jordan doesn't have a lot of game reps, so you want to give him as much as possible. I would say our whole situation is going to be very fluid in terms of you've got to stay one step ahead of the game and what he needs in order for him to develop the way we want him to develop."
4. Preliminary plans are in place for how the Packers will handle their secondary.
After weighing all the options, Green Bay is planning to keep Rasul Douglas as an outside cornerback, Keisean Nixon as a nickel and Darnell Savage as a true safety.
There was some thought earlier this offseason the Packers might consider shifting Douglas to the back end and having Savage play more in the slot. However, both LaFleur and General Manager Brian Gutekunst told reporters in Phoenix that Nixon is the leader in the clubhouse to fill that role.
The Packers began 2022 with Douglas inside, but slid the seven-year NFL veteran back outside after Eric Stokes was lost for the season to knee and ankle injuries sustained against Detroit in Week 9. Back on the perimeter, Douglas' production quickly spiked. He registered 27 tackles, seven passes defensed and three interceptions over Green Bay's final eight games.
"I think Rasul is capable of doing that, (but) that's not where we're going to start him out, at safety," LaFleur said. "When you look at it, I think his best position is outside corner. We tried the nickel thing last year, he's definitely a better player on the perimeter. When he kind of settled in there at the end of the year our performance got better."
The domino effect of Douglas returning to the perimeter was Nixon and Savage splitting time in the slot. Savage eventually finished the year back at safety, which is where LaFleur said he expects the former first-round pick to start next season.
"He's another guy you've got some flexibility there," said LaFleur of Savage. "How we'll start off though is he'll be playing the safety position and we're going to give Keisean every opportunity to lock down that nickel position, and that's what we expect."
5. Packers are open to possibly utilizing Nixon on offense, too.
The All-Pro kick returner joked a few times last season about his desire to possibly get some looks on offense and it may be close to actually happening in 2023.
After the Packers re-signed Nixon earlier this month, LaFleur said he'd consider giving the 5-foot-10, 200-pound cornerback a look or two on the offensive side of the ball. Of course, that is contingent on Nixon growing into his role on defense, where he recorded 17 tackles, an interception and forced fumble in a limited role last season.
"Kei', he's a dynamic player," LaFleur said. "I was joking with him, I said, 'Hey, you never know, there might be some opportunities offensively.' And I know he was fired up to hear that. For us, it truly is. If he can handle it, I've got no problem putting him in there in some situations on offense. But got to make sure that we take care of that nickel spot first and foremost and continue to progress as a returner."