GREEN BAY, Wis. – On five consecutive plays during Wednesday’s organized team activity, young Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love went through his reads before dumping the ball off to one of his running backs near the line of scrimmage.
It was an extreme example of how Love practiced in training camp last summer and how he’s practiced in the two OTAs open to reporters this offseason. While MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers would throw the ball here, there and everywhere, especially in a practice setting when there was nothing at stake beyond putting his receiver to the test, Love has mostly settled for checkdowns and rarely pushed the ball down the field.
The Packers’ coaches want Love to go through his progressions. From that standpoint, they’re happy with what they’ve seen from last year’s first-round pick.
“The main goal for me right now is that he just progresses properly, that he plays with his eyes and his feet,” quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy said during a break in the second week of OTAs on Thursday. “If his eyes and his feet tell him to move in his progression, I want him to move in his progression. So, if defense is taking something away, we need to progress. I don’t want him to think he needs to do something like that, to have to force something down the field.”
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With Rodgers’ future with the team in doubt, this is a critical time for Love, who could go from No. 3 quarterback as a rookie into the starting lineup for a perennial championship contender this year.
Remember, due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Love didn’t have a rookie camp, offseason program or OTAs last year to get a handle on Matt LaFleur’s offense and the LaFleur-Getsy-Nathanial Hackett way of playing quarterback. His first snaps running the offense came during an abbreviated training camp that didn’t include preseason games.
While Love is growing through the accumulation of reps he didn’t get last offseason, he’s been hamstrung by the lack of experienced receivers as All-Pro Davante Adams is among five veteran receivers not present for OTAs. So, perhaps it stands to reason why he’s had to go through his progressions. Other than rookie Amari Rodgers, he might not be throwing to a single receiver who will be on an NFL roster by the time the calendar flips to September.
Of his 20 dropbacks in 11-on-11 play on Wednesday, he pushed the ball downfield four times. The last came on his final pass, a bullet to undrafted rookie Bailey Gaither for a gain of about 15 yards.
“Am I looking for him to throw the ball down the field to get some kind of evaluation? No,” Getsy said. “The biggest thing with playing this position is to play with your eyes and your feet, so I think he’s done a good job of that. Whether that means progressing into checkdowns or throwing as far down the field, that’s to me not as important as making sure you’re progressing properly.”
En route to winning his third MVP last year, Rodgers averaged 7.4 air yards per attempt. That was down sharply from 8.3 in 2019 (Year 1 under LaFleur) and 8.1 in 2018 (the final year under Mike McCarthy), according to Sports Info Solutions. While Rodgers ranked third in the NFL in passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield, according to Pro Football Focus, he a middle-of-the-pack 17th in air yards per attempt, according to NFL data. That’s because Rodgers also ranked fourth in passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage.
So, while it’s important for a quarterback to stretch the defense, it’s more important to take what the defense is giving. That is especially true now, with Love getting comfortable running the offense.
“You don’t want to force it, but I think that you always want to understand when it’s open and where you can still find a completion,” Hackett said. “We always want to get completions and be efficient, be able to move the ball down the field, but we want to be able to take advantage of the shots down the field. I think understanding those two different things are with time.
“Right now, it’s not truly real football. It’s practice and there’s no pads. So, I think that everybody plays it a little bit different. I think him making those good decisions is so critical and is something he’s developing in and he’s getting better at and that just needs to continue.”