LaFleur Hopes to Give Rookies Head-Start

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Under the best of circumstances, it’s a struggle for rookies to make an immediate impact.

Only 10 rookies started all 16 games last season. Only 32 rookies – essentially, an entire round of selections – started even three-quarters of the games. Just 56 players started more than half the games. The Green Bay Packers had two all-rookie performers in Darnell Savage and Elgton Jenkins but their final three selections played a combined 14 snaps from scrimmage. These, of course, are about the worst of circumstances for this year’s rookie class. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out not only the rookie minicamp but all of the offseason practices, meaning the Class of 2020 won’t hit the practice field until training camp.

Speaking in a Zoom call on Friday, Packers coach Matt LaFleur said he’d bring in the rookies before training camp to try to give them more of a fighting chance to make the roster or make an impact.

“Certainly, if there is no opportunities to get together (for offseason practices), I do think it puts them at a little bit of a disadvantage,” LaFleur said. “That is one thing, provided training camp starts on time, you’re allowed to bring the rookies in a week early. That’s something we’ll certainly do to try to get them acclimated to introduce them to some of the stuff that we want them to do on the field.”

Life, slowly, is returning to normal in the NFL. Team personnel were allowed back in facilities on Friday, the commissioner announced in a memo on Thursday. That’s where LaFleur conducted the Zoom call. LaFleur said he’s made it optional for the rest of the staff to join him at the stadium or to continue working remotely. Only assistant defensive backs coach Ryan Downard, who recently became a father, is not allowed at the stadium, LaFleur said.

“It is great to be back here today,” LaFleur said, “But I’m going to leave it up to each individual’s discretion whether or not they want to come back into this building.”

LaFleur didn’t outlined the rest of his offseason plans for the team, other than to say the coaches and players will continue their online offseason. The Jets, for instance, announced they will not have an on-the-field minicamp and will conclude the virtual offseason on June 12.

The offseason, whether it is online or on the field, must end by June 26.

“We’re going to continue with the meetings like we have been doing all along,” LaFleur said. “I think our guys have taken a lot from it. I think that our coaches have done a great job of being creative, because it can get a bit monotonous being on Zoom meetings for a long period of time. Our guys have done a good job and our player participation has been 100 percent, so I'm really excited to see when we finally get these guys back in the building how much they retain from this. It's afforded our guys a good opportunity to kind of take the learning at their own pace because the majority of our meetings are film. They're on their iPads, they can go back, they can rewind, they can take notes at their own pace.”