GREEN BAY, Wis. – With rare exceptions, it’s always going to be a rollercoaster with a young quarterback. So, Jordan Love’s performance in the Green Bay Packers’ three-day minicamp went as expected.
Last year, No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow started 10 games. He had three games with 100-plus passer ratings but four with sub-80 marks. In 2019, No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray started all 16 games. He had three games with 100-plus passer ratings but seven of less than 80. In 2018, No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield started 13 games. He had five games with 100-plus passer ratings but four that were less than 80.
Once again taking the overwhelming majority of the snaps even with three other quarterbacks present, Love went 9-of-18 passing. His second pass of the day was a wounded duck that was intercepted for a pick-six by rookie cornerback Eric Stokes. His last pass was a bullet for a touchdown to Juwann Winfree, with Love’s fastball to the back of the end zone beating the defender who was sprinting hard from the left to make the play.
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Love and 10 Other Highlights from Packers Minicamp
From Jordan Love to Innis Gaines to an energized defense, here are some noteworthy performances from the Green Bay Packers' mandatory minicamp that wrapped up on Thursday.
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There were no training wheels for Love, who didn’t play as a rookie behind Rodgers and Tim Boyle.
“We installed our offense and kind of threw everything at him,” coach Matt LaFleur said after Thursday’s practice. “He’s a guy who hasn’t had the experience as some others. We’ve got to get him multiple looks at many different plays and really find out what he does best and what our team does because, every year, things change in the National Football. Just trying to get a feel for how much he can really handle. I think he’s done a great job of being intentional about his work, how he goes out to practice every day and I think it’s paying off for him. I think he’s made some progress.”
Unofficially, Love went 12-of-23 with a doomed two-minute drill on Tuesday, 20-of-30 with a winning two-minute drill on Wednesday and 9-of-18 (with no two-minute drill) on Thursday. Love was reticent to push the ball downfield on Tuesday but more aggressive the last two days.
“I keep telling him day by day, ‘You’re getting better,’ outside linebacker Rashan Gary said. “He has a hell of an arm. I’m happy that we drafted him, and every rep that he gets, he’s getting better. He’s showing that whatever the circumstances may be, he will be ready and he’s pushing himself for that. I’m happy for his growth and happy to see him in the right mindset. Jordan Love is an unfinished product, but he’s going to get to where he needs to be.”
More Packers Minicamp Notes
One: During most training camp periods last summer, Rodgers took the first four snaps, Boyle took the next four, Rodgers was back for four and Love would end the period with four (or fewer, depending on time permitted). There was no such rotation at the minicamp. On Thursday, Love took the first nine snaps (six passes), Blake Bortles got three (one pass), Love got five (four passes), Kurt Benkert got two (one pass) and Love got the final 12 (eight passes). Together, that was 26 snaps for Love (18 passes) and a combined five (two passes) for the other three quarterbacks.
In other words, the Packers are hoping Rodgers will return but they are doing everything possible to get Love ready, just in case.
Two: With left guard Elgton Jenkins (COVID protocol) and left tackle David Bakhtiari (ACL) not practicing and with Corey Linsley snapping the ball for the Chargers, the Packers had two rookies getting a lot of first-team reps. Second-round center Josh Myers took just about all of the No. 1 reps while fourth-round tackle/guard Royce Newman got a lot of No. 1 snaps at right tackle on Wednesday and Thursday. Billy Turner, the usual right tackle, took Bakhtiari’s place at left tackle.
Three: It’s going to be a battle to make the squad at receiver. Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard are the top three returning players, and a third-round pick was used on slot Amari Rodgers. That’s four spots that would seem to be locked up. Equanimeous St. Brown and Malik Taylor spent last season on the roster, Devin Funchess is back after opting out, and Juwann Winfree and Reggie Begelton are practice-squad holdovers. Chris Blair, who joined the team in January, and Bailey Gaither, an undrafted rookie, flashed a bit during OTAs.
Four: Speaking of Winfree, he might have been the most productive receiver during the minicamp. A sixth-round pick by Denver in 2019, he scored the “winning” touchdown in a two-minute drill on Wednesday and made the impressive catch of the bullet from Love for a score on Thursday.
Five: Funchess didn’t take a lot of 11-on-11 reps but he did have an impressive catch-and-run touchdown of a slant on Thursday. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he’s an impressive guy. Can he catch the ball better than he has in the past? And can he rebound after essentially missing the last two seasons?
“Just talking to Tae, Lazard, MVS, Amari, everybody in the wideout room really have been welcoming,” he said. “It’s been good. It’s been fun. I just appreciate the opportunity and the guys on the team.”
Six: Kylin Hill will enter training camp as the favorite to be the third running back. He’s been exactly as advertised. He had a superb run on Thursday in which he stopped on a dime, dodged a defender and broke into the clear. As was the case during his truncated final season at Mississippi State, he’s got superb hands. The Packers are in good hands at running with Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon and Hill. Critically, Hill finished his career at Mississippi State with 448 consecutive touches without a fumble dating to his freshman year of 2017.
Seven: Speaking of Jones, his NFC Championship Game ended in miserable fashion with a game-killing fumble that knocked him out of the game with injured ribs. On the first snap Thursday, he fumbled again.
What About the Defense?
Eight: Energy from a coaching staff doesn’t win football games. Bill Belichick isn’t exactly the most excitable coach in the NFL. But it is interesting to observe new defensive coordinator Joe Barry. He’s much more animated and hands-on than his predecessor, Mike Pettine. Coincidentally or not, the defense seems much more energized. On Thursday, when Shemar Jean-Charles knocked Valdes-Scantling’s bobble to the ground, the sideline erupted as if it had just won the game.
During the opening sequence of nine plays operated by Love, the defense forced a Jones fumble on the first, Za’Darius Smith sniffed out an end-around to Rodgers on the second, Stokes had the pick-six on the fourth, safety Innis Gaines made a great play on the fifth (more on that later), Smith might have had a sack and safety Vernon Scott might have had an interception on the sixth, and Delontae Scott might have had a sack and Jean-Charles made his big play on the seventh.
Nine: With the obvious caveat that these practices aren’t held in pads and are noncontact, the best player on the field the past three days was third-year outside linebacker Rashan Gary. As a rookie first-round pick in 2019, Gary had 21 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for losses and three quarterback hits, according to the official stats. In 2020, he had 34 tackles, five sacks, five tackles for losses and 11 quarterback hits. Another big leap could be in the cards.
“We’re able to have this six weeks off, which I’m going to go back and train and just work on every aspect of my game,” he said. “I’m not done. While I did make a lot of jumps, I’m still hungry and there’s still room to improve.”
Ten: Perhaps the play of the day on defense was made by first-year safety Gaines. Love coaxed the defense offside and took advantage with a deep shot to Allen Lazard. The ball was well thrown but Gaines was in perfect position for a leaping breakup.
Gaines went undrafted and unsigned out of TCU in 2020 after intercepting three passes and forcing three fumbles in his final three seasons. He spent the year out of the league before the Packers signed him to a futures deal in January.
What’s Next for the Packers?
The Packers will conclude the offseason with a final week of OTAs. Veterans are excused; they can attend virtual meetings to get credit for any offseason bonus money. So, essentially, practices on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday will be all about the young players.
“We have a pretty good idea of how many guys we’re going to have,” LaFleur said. “I can’t give you the exact number off the top of my head right now. But made sure that each position group communicated with their position coaches about what their plan was, and we’ll adjust accordingly. But the guys that are here, we’re going to go out on the field and we’re going to work. You can take advantage of that time if you choose to stay in Green Bay. For the guys who are away, then we’re going to have a virtual component where they can get credit for that as well. The bottom line is everybody has to be a pro and they have to go attack it wherever they are and put their best foot forward so we can hit the ground running come July 27.”
July 27 is the league-wide reporting date for training camp. The first practice could be July 31.