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Packers Say Love on Right Track

First-round quarterback Jordan Love often looks like a rookie who didn’t have the benefit of an offseason program to get ready to play the most difficult position in sports.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – With Aaron Rodgers entrenched as the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback and incumbent backup Tim Boyle having a strong training camp, this will be a season to watch and learn for first-round pick Jordan Love.

Good thing, too. While Love has flashed his skill on occasion, he often looks like a rookie who didn’t have the benefit of an offseason program to get ready to play the most difficult position in sports.

“I’ll tell you, you look at Jordan, obviously this is an unbelievably unique experience to not have an offseason, besides over a Zoom call, to not be able to practice, to not be able to be around your teammates and then be thrown into something like an NFL system vs. a defense like (defensive coordinator Mike) Pettine’s,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said on Wednesday.

With absolutely no pressure for Love to play, the Packers’ coaches can show uncommon patience compared to teams like the Bengals, with No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow as the unquestioned starter, and Dolphins, with No. 5 overall pick Tua Tagovailoa competing to start.

“It’s a challenge for him just being able to learn the system and being able to call the play in the huddle and then go out and execute,” Hackett continued. “Without the experience, you feel like he just needs more time to learn how to be able to play and go out there and play within the system. And I think that’s what sometimes you’re seeing is he gets that play call, he gets up to the line, he gets everything and it’s like, ‘OK, now let’s play.’ Sometimes, it’s that instinct that’s got to take over, and I think that he’s not 100 percent sure at times. That’s why experience is so important, especially at that position. So, the more practice that he can get, the more situations we can give him, the better he’ll be.”

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From a reps perspective, Love is playing a game of catch-up he’s not going to win anytime soon. The COVID-19 pandemic robbed him of more than a month’s worth of practices along with face-to-face time with the coaches. Now that it’s training camp, the reps are going to Rodgers to get him ready for Week 1 and Boyle because he’s so far ahead of Love. In a typical practice period, Rodgers gets the first four reps, Boyle gets the next four and Rodgers takes four more snaps before Love gets the final four (or fewer, if time runs out on the period).

“I’d say the biggest thing lost would be reps,” Love said recently. “Throughout the whole summer, just being on Zoom doing meetings and finally getting out here right now and then not having preseason games and whatnot, I would say reps is the biggest thing. But you’ve just got to find a way to learn on the go and be a great visual learner and being able to just go through plays in my head in the back when I’m not getting reps and just take mental reps.”

Thinking and playing don’t work in any sport, let alone being a professional quarterback. If the pass is thrown a split-second too late to the receiver, the timing is messed up and disaster awaits. At Tuesday’s practice in Lambeau Field, he made a couple high-quality throws, including a downfield strike to tight end Jace Sternberger. Later, though, he threw one interception and almost another.

Both of his interceptions have come while under pressure. It’s those plays that further drive home the point that Love is not ready to play. That’s no surprise, though. A scout said Love needed a year to “shake all that stuff [that went wrong at Utah State] out of his system.” The Packers drafted Love to be the starter over the long haul, not the backup in 2020, no different than when they drafted Rodgers in 2005.

Whether or not Love can develop into a winning starter is anyone’s guess. The Packers insist they like his progress, even if it hasn’t shown up consistently on the practice field.

“The virtual stuff really enabled us to dive deep in the details of the offense, so I think for a new guy that just walked into a building at the end of the July, to be where he’s at mentally, I think he’s in a pretty good place,” quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy said. “He knows he can talk about what we’re doing, but it’s the understanding that comes with just the continuous, whether it’s a rep or whether it’s watching reps that Aaron takes or that Tim takes, those repetitions and hearing how people are being coached around him, he just needs as much of that as he can get. As far as what a piece of paper says, the kid does a great job. He works his butt off. That’s been a lot of fun and it’s been good to see how much time he puts into it. He cares about it. And so now it’s just refining those skills by hearing and by doing. We’ve just got to get him as many opportunities of those as we can.”