GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers wrapped up their four weeks of offseason practices with an abbreviated session on Thursday. Without Aaron Rodgers, it was business as usual for the 12th and final time of the spring.
Pleased with the work put in by the other 89 players, coach Matt LaFleur let them start their vacations a little early.
“We just felt like the guys have done such a great job and wanted to throw them a bone,” LaFleur said after Thursday’s practice. “Just really pleased with the effort, the energy, the focus, especially going into the last day. You always kind of worry about that as a coach but our guys, they were ready to work today.”
Now, it’s vacation time – though it figures to be less relaxing than normal with the Rodgers ordeal hanging over the franchise like a haze of cigarette smoke in a poorly ventilated room.
From a tangible perspective, it was interesting that LaFleur said he’d have only one training camp plan rather than a plan with the reigning MVP conducting class and another with Jordan Love getting an on-the-fly education at the School of Hard Knocks. Either LaFleur wasn’t interested in discussing the subject, QB1 will get the same percentage of snaps regardless of who it is, or he knows something he wasn’t about to share.
From an intangible perspective, LaFleur could face the daunting challenge of building chemistry with a team in turmoil. In the grand scheme of things, Rodgers’ absence from the offseason practices was irrelevant. If Rodgers is on the team but not with the team for the first practice on July 31, the controversy will become much more relevant – and only gain in relevancy with each passing day.
“The challenge,” LaFleur said, “is can you re-create that magic that we’ve been able to the last couple years and become a close-knit, connected team with great player leadership?”
The men in the middle of the mess are LaFleur and Love. The fourth-down field goal in the NFC Championship Game notwithstanding, Rodgers’ ire isn’t directed at the coach who delivered the scheme that led the NFL in scoring and set Rodgers up for his third MVP. And it’s not directed at Love, who didn’t choose to come to Green Bay in the first round of last year’s draft.
What an odd and, potentially, unnerving situation for the two. In 40 days, the Packers will convene for training camp. Coming off back-to-back crushing defeats in NFC Championship Games, LaFleur has no idea who will be playing the most important position in the sport. And last year’s No. 3 quarterback has no idea if he’ll be walking into the greatest pressure cooker the NFL has seen since perhaps 2008, when Rodgers replaced Brett Favre for the start of training camp in front of a split fanbase surrounding Clarke Hinkle Field.
LaFleur and Love handled the situation well during the offseason practices, but May and June aren’t August and September.
LaFleur’s message as the two go their separate ways for the next five-plus weeks?
“It’s the same message it’s been all the time is you’re only one play away, so you always have to prepare like you’re the starter,” LaFleur said. “And just to be very intentional about the work that you put in, to go out there with a purpose, to be mindful and in the moment. Every rep for him is so critical, whether it’s on air, on his own or it’s with us in 11-on-11 situations and he’s getting that constant coaching. And I think he’s done a great job of embracing just the whole situation, embracing learning from every rep.
“One thing we talked about after Tuesday’s practice is, ‘Hey, man, you’re going to have some great days and you’re going to have some days that aren’t as great. And you’ve got to be able to ride that wave. You’re never too high, you’re never too low and just making sure that you learn from each and every rep.’ And I think he’s done a really good job of that.”