GREEN BAY — Matt LaFleur has ridden this roller-coaster before.
No, not the will-he-or-won’t-he imbroglio the Green Bay Packers are navigating with their future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, and whether the three-time NFL MVP will return to the fold sooner, later or not at all. That is completely uncharted territory for LaFleur, the team’s third-year coach.
But the peaks-and-valleys journey of a young quarterback developing under heavy scrutiny — the scenario currently unfolding with 2020 first-round draft pick Jordan Love, who is running the first-team offense with Rodgers staying away from the team’s mandatory three-day minicamp this week — is extremely familiar terrain for LaFleur.
As the quarterbacks coach in Washington in 2012, he had two rookie QBs in No. 2 overall pick Robert Griffin III and fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins. And in 2017, as the Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator, he worked with Jared Goff, who’d been the No. 1 overall pick a year earlier.
Which perhaps is why, just as LaFleur didn’t blow a gasket after Love’s erratic and inaccurate showing during Tuesday’s minicamp practice, the even-keeled coach wasn’t so overjoyed with Love’s impressive showing during Wednesday’s practice that he entered the Zoom video frame doing a Simone Biles tumbling pass into the camera’s view, either.
“There are some ups and downs. No doubt about it,” LaFleur said after Love’s fantastic performance at Clarke Hinkle Field. “And every day is a new learning experience.
“When you have limited reps and you weren’t getting the bulk of the reps all throughout the course of the season — and this is never an excuse, it’s just reality, (and) there was no preseason — there’s just a ton of learning that’s going on.
“It’s great to see when he does have success, because that will build the confidence, and that’s really what we’re looking for. But also, it’s everybody else around him, too. When they’re playing at a high level, it makes that guy’s job a lot easier.”
How much of Love’s stellar practice was his doing, and how much of it was players around him making his job easier — a theme LaFleur touched on repeatedly during his post-practice session with reporters — only the coaches who watched the film Wednesday can say for certain.
But in real time, Love was undeniably impressive in the same 11-on-11 periods where he’d struggled 24 hours earlier. Once again getting virtually all the quarterback snaps during three team periods — a scripted third-down period, a move-the-ball period and a competitive 2-minute drill — Love made pinpoint throws, including several downfield throws that he hadn’t made in previous practices.
Unofficially, he completed 20 of the 31 throws he attempted, including a gorgeous sideline rainbow to running back AJ Dillon on a wheel route that went for a roughly 30-yard gain; a deep free-play strike to wide receiver Allen Lazard for about 45 yards; another 30ish-yard strike to wide open wide receiver Juwann Winfree on a corner route; and a fantastic downfield dart to running back Aaron Jones for another big gain.
After that last throw to Jones, tight ends coach Justin Outten took the play-by-play script and started waving it at Love, as if he was trying to cool the kid off amid the 90-degree temperatures and his on-fire right arm.
“When you have a little success early and your confidence starts to grow, then you’re able to go out there and execute at a higher level,” LaFleur said. Then, more cautiously, he added, “We’ll go back and take a look at the tape, but I also think (that) too many times, that position in particular gets too much credit and too much blame. We really need the other 10 guys around him to play at a high level to allow him to go out and play at a high level. By and large, without watching the tape, it just seemed that there was better execution from everybody out there on the offensive side of the ball.
“As a quarterback, at any position, you’ve got to quickly hit that reset button. Certainly, you want to have success, because again, your confidence grows and it gives you more confidence to go out there and be consistent and make those plays. And I think he’s done a nice job responding on a daily basis.”
For his part, while Love was clearly excited during practice — especially when one of the linemen picked him up in a bear hug after one of his big plays — and smiled broadly after capping the 2-minute drill with an 8-yard back-of-the-end-zone touchdown pass to a leaping Lazard, he came off largely nonplussed during his Zoom call with reporters when asked a barrage of questions about his performance.
“I definitely feel it was a good day for me — and for everybody else as well — just bouncing back from yesterday’s practice,” Love said. “On offense, it wasn’t our best practice, all around and for me as well. Being able for us to come out here and just bounce back today, it meant a lot for everybody. And the goal for now is to keep stacking good days and be better tomorrow.”
Love eventually did acknowledge how much he enjoyed playing well — “It was fun out there,” he admitted — but he also said he’s doing his best to stay level-headed amid the uncertainty with Rodgers, who still hasn’t publicly declared his intentions for this season. By the time the Sept. 12 regular-season opener kicks off at New Orleans, Rodgers could be back under center and leading the team, or Love could be making his NFL debut.
“My mindset this whole offseason’s been to get myself ready, and that’s been my mindset since I got here,” Love said. “Whether Aaron was here or not here, that’s going to be my mindset regardless, because I have to get myself ready to play and be able to go out there and take charge of the team and be able to perform at a high level and do my best so everybody else can do their jobs as well. My goal is just to take day by day, get better, find areas I need to improve.”
But when asked if he believes he is prepared to be the opening-day starter, Love said he will be “100%” ready, despite not having even worn his No. 10 jersey on a game day last season, having been inactive for all 18 games.
“Obviously, this is a time where I’m getting a lot of extremely valuable reps that I might not have been getting in a normal circumstance,” Love said. “That’s what I’m here for. I was drafted here to play quarterback, so I’ll definitely be ready Week 1.”
LaFleur, meanwhile, isn’t thinking that far ahead. The final practice of minicamp was as far into the future he was worried about.
“Listen, you can never get too high and never too low in this game,” LaFleur said. “The biggest emphasis for Jordan is just to treat each play as its own entity. And we’re always grading the decision making, the timing, the accuracy. We want to see the consistency, just continue to get better and better.
“With any young player, whether it’s a quarterback or whatever position, there are going to be some tough times. You have to be resilient. You have to persevere through those tough times. A lot of times, people will learn more from their mistakes than they will from their successes. We’ve just got to make sure that we continue to work and get better each and every day.”
The Packers officially signed ex-Atlanta and Arizona inside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. Campbell, who started 54 games with the Falcons and Cardinals, was a 2016 fourth-round pick. … The team released running back Mike Weber to make room for Campbell. … Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was cleared from COVID-19 protocols and practiced. … Love wasn’t the only successful quarterback during the 2-minute drill. Kurt Benkert threw a 50-yard touchdown to Winfree to close out his turn running the offense.
Green Bay bound: Get to know all 9 players picked by Packers in 2021 NFL Draft
ERIC STOKES — CB — GEORGIA
Pick: No. 29 overall
Year: Redshirt junior
Age: 22 (March 1, 1999)
Weight: 194 pounds
Packers jersey number: 21
Notes: Stokes was a two-year starter, finishing his Bulldogs career with four interceptions while also registering as one of the fastest players in the draft, running a 4.25-second 40-yard dash at Georgia's pro day.
JOSH MYERS — OL — OHIO STATE
Pick: No. 62
Age: 22 (July 16, 1998)
Weight: 310 pounds
Packers jersey number: 71
Notes: Myers started 21 games in his final two seasons with the Buckeyes, earning first-team all-Big Ten honors in 2020. While he lined up at center in college, the Packers feel like Myers can play all three interior spots on the offensive line.
AMARI RODGERS — WR — CLEMSON
Pick: No. 85
Age: 21 (Sept. 23, 1999)
Weight: 212 pounds
Packers jersey number: 8
Notes: The Packers moved up seven spots in the third round to snag Rodgers, who caught 181 passes for 2,144 yards and 15 touchdowns at Clemson — including 77 receptions for 1,020 yards and seven TDs as a senior. Rodgers has drawn comparisons to former Packers receiver Randall Cobb, and he didn't shy away from it during his pro day. “I’d definitely see myself as a Randall Cobb type player, being used in the slot, jet sweeps and the return game, as well,” Rodgers said. “Ever since Randall left, they haven't had a guy like that for real."
ROYCE NEWMAN — OL — MISSISSIPPI
Pick: No. 142
Year: Redshirt senior
Age: 23 (Aug. 17, 1997)
Weight: 310 pounds
Packers jersey number: 70
Notes: The Packers see Newman as another versatile lineman who could help in multiple spots. A two-year starter at Ole Miss, Newman started all 10 games last season at right tackle. While he has long enough arms to stay at tackle, his length could be an advantage inside as well.
TEDARRELL SLATON — DL — FLORIDA
Pick: No. 173
Weight: 330 pounds
Packers jersey number: 93
Notes: Slaton, who started his collegiate career on the offensive line, didn’t start for the Gators until his senior season, finishing last season with 1.5 sacks, 37 total tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in 12 games.
SHEMAR JEAN-CHARLES — CB — APPALACHIAN STATE
Pick: No. 178
Weight: 184 pounds
Packers jersey number: 22
Notes: Jean-Charles, who lead the nation with 17 pass breakups last season, was the first player from a non-Power Five school that the Packers selected during this year's draft. While he only intercepted two passes in two seasons as a starter, his 27 breakups during that span stood out.
COLE VAN LANEN — OL — WISCONSIN
Pick: No. 214
Age: 23 (April 23, 1998)
Weight: 305 pounds
Packers jersey number: 78
Notes: Van Lanen almost missed the draft-day call from his hometown team. Luckily he ignored his phone's warning of a potential spam risk and answered. The call was from the Green Bay Packers, informing the former Badgers lineman that he was being drafted by the team he grew up rooting for. He played in 45 games at tackle for UW, including five starts last season when he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors for the second consecutive year.
ISAIAH MCDUFFIE — LB — BOSTON COLLEGE
Pick: No. 220
Year: Redshirt junior
Age: 21 (July 21, 1999)
Weight: 227 pounds
Packers jersey number: 58
Notes: McDuffie, an inside linebacker, had 107 tackles, three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss with one interception last season after missing a significant portion of the 2019 season with a knee injury.
KYLIN HILL — RB — MISSISSIPPI STATE
Pick: No. 256
Age: 22 (Aug. 18, 1998)
Weight: 214 pounds
Packers jersey number: 32
Notes: Despite being Green Bay's final selection of the three-day draft, Hill could be a third option in the backfield for the Packers this season. He rushed for 734 yards as a sophomore in 2018 and 1,350 yards as a junior in 2019. Last season, Hill carried the ball 15 times for 58 yards in the first three games before being suspended for a game by new coach Mike Leach and then opting out of the remainder of the season.