GREEN BAY, Wis. – After Day 1 of Green Bay Packers training camp, Aaron Rodgers jokingly called the defense chumps. If that unit keeps playing like it did on Family Night and most other days during camp, maybe the Packers will be champs.
The story through nine days of training camp is the power of the defense. That continued on Friday night at Lambeau Field, a performance encapsulated by a red-zone drill. Rodgers and Co. had seven chances from inside the 10-yard line. It scored one touchdown – and it barely scored that one, with Rodgers’ pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis almost broken up by quick-reacting linebacker Quay Walker.
After that, it was almost as if the defense was offended. Safety Adrian Amos broke up a pass to Randall Cobb, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell showed incredible range to thwart Aaron Jones on a jet-sweep-style toss from Rodgers, safety Shawn Davis almost intercepted a pass to Allen Lazard and defensive tackle Dean Lowry dropped Jones on a run from the 2.
So, is the defense great? Or is the offense really struggling to find its footing without All-Pro receiver Davante Adams and injured offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins?
“It’s a double-edged sword,” coach Matt LaFleur said afterward. “I hope it's our defense is really stout and they're going to be very tough to deal with. I think the one area that we have to improve is just the consistency up front. Now, granted, I think we have a pretty good defensive front. Our front seven can be pretty salty, so I hope they're making our offense that much better. But, at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter who's out there. They’ve got to get the job done and we've got to see improvement over the course of the next week and into the preseason games.”
At the start of camp, Rodgers predicted the offense was “going to get our butts kicked most days.” That’s been the case. It’s a juggernaut unit without a weak link in the starting lineup.
“I think there's some things we're doing a great job with and there's a lot of areas for improvement,” LaFleur said. “One thing that we've kind of challenged our defense on is the consistency with stopping the run, and then I think they've done a pretty nice job defending the pass and, in particular, the deep balls and not giving up a ton of big plays down the field.”
Player of the Day
Discussing the unimportance of the preseason earlier this week, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “When the lights go on, there are some players who rise to the occasion, and some players who shrink.”
Family Night wasn’t a preseason game. But the lights were on at Lambeau Field, and more than 50,000 butts were in the seats for what backup quarterback Jordan Love called a “glorified practice.” Defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt, the second of the team’s first-round picks, had meandered through eight quiet practices at training camp. On Friday, he rose to the occasion.
Wyatt was a whirling dervish in a series of matchups against third-round guard Sean Rhyan. He might have killed Love on Love’s touchdown pass to Samori Toure. (More on that later.) He exploded down the line of scrimmage to stop running back B.J. Baylor. He drew a couple holding penalties.
Rather than unleashing winning spin moves, Wyatt had been spinning his wheels as the team’s fifth-best defensive tackle, lagging well behind Kenny Clark, Jarran Reed, Dean Lowry and T.J. Slaton. Whenever coach Matt LaFleur splits his team into two groups, with the starters and key backups squaring off on one end of the field and the bottom-of-the-depth-chart players battling on the other end, Wyatt has been with those other players while fellow Georgia products Eric Stokes and Quay Walker work with the starters.
“I be watching them because I’m second team out there,” Wyatt said recently. “Watching them go out there before me and seeing how hard they work. When I go out there, I’ve got to go harder because my guys are doing all they can. It just motivates me to get better too so I can be out there with them.”
Friday’s performance isn’t suddenly going to have Wyatt joining Walker in the starting lineup. But it was a huge step for a player who had been having a disappointing camp.
Play of the Day
Jordan Love’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Samori Toure had a little something for everyone. First-round defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt used a nasty spin move to blow past rookie guard Sean Rhyan and get in the face of Love. And Love, as he did earlier in the week, held firm against the pressure and delivered a strike for the score.
“He’s definitely going to get a hit on me,” Love said. “It’s going to be one I’ll have to try to find a way to get off. Yeah, he’s definitely going to get a hit on me.”
Coach Matt LaFleur said it would have been a “bang-bang play.”
“It’s whether or not you can get it off cleanly and take a hit or you get hit as you’re throwing it and that ball’s fluttering in the air,” LaFleur continued. “It’s really tough to tell. We’ve stressed it so much to our defense of staying away from the quarterback. A lot of times, as those guys are going through the line of scrimmage, they start to pull up or start to pull away. We never want a guy to stop right in front of the quarterback so, when he follows through, they bang their hand or whatnot.”
Completing passes under pressure is the secret sauce to quality quarterbacking play. It’s a skill that can’t be perfectly simulated. While drill work can improve a quarterback in that phase, really, it’s something a quarterback has or he lacks.
Last season, Love was a woeful 6-of-19 when pressured, according to Pro Football Focus. He had a big day at practice earlier in the week and did it again on the touchdown.
“It’s something I’ve got to improve on,” Love said. “Going back to the Lions game last year at the end, the two-minute drive, I had a throw with a guy in my face that I missed and it could have been a big play. That’s something that I looked at during the offseason and thinking about how I have to get better at being able to stay in the pocket and take those hits and still be able to make those throws.”
Packers Depth Chart Notes
- Vernon Scott, not Shawn Davis, replaced Darnell Savage at safety with the No. 1 defense.
- The No. 1 offense started every series with Yosh Nijman at left tackle, Jon Runyan at left guard, Josh Myers at center, Jake Hanson and right guard and Royce Newman at right tackle. By the end of each series, Newman moved back home to right guard and rookie Zach Tom stepped in at right tackle.
- The No. 2 tandem at outside linebacker was Tipa Galeai and Jonathan Garvin. La’Darius Hamilton had spent most of the summer with the second unit.
- Players who are No. 1s on three or four phases of special teams include Shemar Jean-Charles, Tipa Galeai, Isaiah McDuffie, Tyler Davis, Rico Gafford and Dallin Leavitt.
- If the Packers keep a sixth defensive linemen, seventh-round pick Jonathan Ford has moved ahead of Jack Heflin.
Packers Family Night Injury Report
Starting safety Darnell Savage suffered a hamstring injury during individual drills and did not return. With a smile, he called it a fast-person injury.
Meanwhile, rookie receiver Christian Watson remains out of action.
New Injuries: S Darnell Savage (hamstring), OLB Randy Ramsey (ankle).
Returned to practice: None.
Old injuries: RB Patrick Taylor (groin), C Cole Schneider (ankle), WR Osirus Mitchell (quad), WR Malik Taylor (shoulder).
Non-Football Injury List: CB Keisean Nixon (groin).
Physically unable to perform list: K Mason Crosby (knee), WR Christian Watson (knee), RB Kylin Hill (knee), LT David Bakhtiari (knee), OL Elgton Jenkins (knee), TE Robert Tonyan (knee).
Packers Training Camp Schedule
The team updated this week’s schedule before practice. After five consecutive days of practice, the Packers will take Saturday off before returning to Ray Nitschke Field early Sunday afternoon.
Samori Toure does a Lambeau Leap on Family Night.
- During the one-on-one pass-blocking drill, left tackle Yosh Nijman went 2-0 against Rashan Gary, left guard Jon Runyan went 2-0 against Kenny Clark, center Josh Myers went 1-1 against Jarran Reed, right guard Jake Hanson went 1-1 but got bull-rushed by Dean Lowry and right tackle Royce Newman lost both snaps against Preston Smith. Zach Tom, who is pushing for the spot at right tackle, went 1-2 against Kingsley Enagbare.
- During the one-on-one receiving drill, Juwann Winfree either dropped a pass or was stripped by Rasul Douglas, and Romeo Doubs beat Kiondre Thomas for a long touchdown despite quality coverage.
- Jordan Love didn’t throw any interceptions but almost was picked off by linebacker Isaiah McDuffie and threw behind his man a couple times.
- Danny Etling almost served up a pick-six to Donte Vaughn. On the other hand, he threw a beautiful deep ball that Doubs dropped.
- Etling also tossed a touchdown pass to Toure (pictured), but the credit goes to Toure for making the adjustment on an underthrown ball. Like Devonte Wyatt, Toure had been having a quiet rookie training camp but was a real standout on Friday.
Said coach Matt LaFleur: "He did a lot of great things. For him, it’s just going to be can he continue to improve each and every day? We’re throwing a lot at these guys. Almost the entire playbook’s in and he’s handled it the right way. I think the arrow’s pointed up on him. He’ll get an opportunity in these three preseason games to show everybody what he’s all about."
- The punt drill featured some excellent kicks by Pat O’Donnell – including a 65-yard bomb and one that hit and stuck at the 5-yard line – a couple low snaps by Steven Wirtel and a holding penalty against Kingsley Enagbare to prevent a potential block.
- Rookie right guard Sean Rhyan handled fellow rookie Devonte Wyatt to clear a nice hole for B.J. Baylor but also was flagged twice for holding and gave up the aforementioned spin move.
- Kicker Gabe Brkic was 5-of-10. He missed an extra point at the end of pre-practice warmups as well as field goals from 54 yards (right) and 58 yards (left). His second-to-last kick was a miss from 37 but the snap was low.
- The offense ended the night with a nice touchdown drive. On fourth-and-2, Aaron Rodgers went deep to Sammy Watkins for a gain of 26 against Eric Stokes. Rodgers went back to Watkins for a gain of 11 and AJ Dillon spun his way into the end zone from the 2 on the offense’s final play. Brkic made the extra point despite a high snap from Jack Coco to end the night.