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As Aaron Rodgers saga drags on, Jordan Love continues on path that Packers admit has ‘a long way to go’
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As Aaron Rodgers saga drags on, Jordan Love continues on path that Packers admit has ‘a long way to go’

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Packers quarterback Jordan Love was inactive for all 18 games last season.

GREEN BAY — A year removed from selecting Jordan Love — and knocking over the first domino that now has the Green Bay Packers wondering if quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be back under center this season — Brian Gutekunst was recalling the night he’d traded up for the former Utah State quarterback.

It was the first day of the 2021 NFL draft. Several hours before the Jacksonville Jaguars were going on the clock with the first overall pick, Rodgers’ private displeasure with the Packers had spilled into public view via an ESPN report.

As a result, Gutekunst, the Packers fourth-year general manager, wound up fielding more draft-night questions about the situation with the three-time MVP than queries about this year’s first-round pick, Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes.

Among those Rodgers-related questions during Gutekunst’s Zoom session with reporters was one about how the previous year’s draft had unfolded and if Gutekunst had perhaps panicked and picked Love — without contemplating the overarching consequences — after a pair of wide receivers (LSU’s Justin Jefferson and Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk) had come off the board shortly before the Packers were picking at No. 26.

No, Gutekunst said. He hadn’t been caught unaware.

“Certainly, as we went into the draft last year, we had a lot of thoughts about receivers and different things and maybe moving up. But the draft didn’t fall that way. So we ended up going a different route,” Gutekunst explained. “Like I’ve said, we didn’t expect Jordan to be there. We were exceptionally happy that he was. And we’re excited for his development.

“He’s got a long way to go, but we’re ecstatic for his development.”

It was an eye-opening moment of candor — “He’s got a long way to go,” Gutekunst’s words echoed — about a player who could wind up as the team’s opening-day starter at New Orleans on Sept. 12 if Rodgers stands his ground and holds out of training camp.

Upcoming camp

Rodgers has already missed the early portions of the team’s voluntary offseason program — something he’s never skipped in the past — and he’s not expected to attend this week’s first organized team activity practices, including Tuesday’s, which will be open to select media but closed to the public.

The team’s mandatory full-squad minicamp kicks off on June 8, and Rodgers, who spent the past week vacationing in Hawaii with fiancee Shailene Woodley, isn’t expected to show up for those practices, either — even though he would be subject to fines if absent.

Rodgers hasn’t spoken publicly about his situation since his unhappiness became public, though that could change on Monday night, when he’s scheduled to appear on longtime ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne’s final SportsCenter broadcast.

The Packers have been unequivocal in their refusal to trade Rodgers, and coach Matt LaFleur has gone out of his way to emphasize how desperately he wants — and needs — Rodgers to continue running his offense. During the team’s post-draft rookie camp earlier this month, LaFleur said he wanted Rodgers to return “in the worst way.”

Even so, the Packers signed ex-Jacksonville starter Blake Bortles earlier this month, another tacit admission that Love might not be ready if the Rodgers situation disintegrates.

In fairness to Love, who doesn’t turn 23 until November, the Packers admitted at the time of the pick he was a developmental player. With Love having played at a non-Power 5 school and underwhelming numbers in his final college season, Gutekunst all but acknowledged Love would sit for at least two years behind Rodgers, who turns 38 in December but has said he plans on playing five to seven more years.

Few reps

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which wiped out all on-field work during last year’s offseason programs, shortened all 32 teams’ training camps and canceled all preseason games — all of which would have greatly benefited Love.

On top of that, while Rodgers was leading the Packers to a 13-3 regular-season record and a second straight NFC Championship Game berth, Love never even got to wear his No. 10 jersey on a game day, serving as the inactive third quarterback for all 18 games (including playoffs). Even worse, with Tim Boyle serving as Rodgers’ primary backup, Love scarcely got any regular-season practice reps because Rodgers got the starter’s work and Boyle handled nearly all the scout-team snaps.

Asked following the draft — before on-field offseason work began — where Love is in his development, LaFleur replied: “That’s really tough to tell because he hasn’t been back here. I know he’s working his tail off to come back in the best possible shape and (be) the best possible player he can be. He’s given everything he’s got into the workouts and into our virtual meetings.

“He’s doing a great job and learning a lot, but the reality of the situation (is), he’s a young quarterback and he’s a young quarterback who wasn’t provided an offseason really last year. There were no preseason games. So, it’s really limited exposure. Not only that, but all last season Tim Boyle was our backup, so he didn’t get a lot of the reps in practice.

“I think we’re all interested to see where he’s at. We’re excited about him. I think he is a talented player, but we all know that with any young players, specifically at that position, there’s always going to be room to grow.“

And that’s why the coming weeks are so vital for Love’s development.

“For him it’s just growing more in the offensive system, even more than he has already, just making it his own. I think that’s so huge,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said earlier this offseason. “Obviously, we’re very excited (for him to) be able to practice, because I think that’s something he needs. The last time he was able to really get after the practices was in training camp. … He’s got to really make some strides and get those full-time speed reps.”

In Rodgers’ three years as the understudy to Brett Favre, he got extra work during the offseason minicamps because Favre did not attend or take part. Coach Mike Sherman excused Favre in 2005, coach Mike McCarthy excused him in 2006 and, in 2007 after a disgruntled Favre had said he would skip the minicamp without the team’s permission, Favre reversed course and attended — but Rodgers got much of the practice work.

‘Best version of him’

If Rodgers doesn’t take part in this year’s offseason work, Love will get lots of snaps he wouldn’t otherwise have gotten, even if Bortles takes some of those reps as he learns the offense. The Packers’ fourth quarterback is Kurt Benkert, who won a roster spot after a strong showing as a tryout player at the rookie camp.

“I’ve talked to Jordan and I told him, ‘You know, there’s a lot of noise out there. You can’t focus on that. You’ve got to focus on yourself,’” LaFleur said. “I know you guys think it’s cliche, but he’s got to be the best version of him. He’s got to do everything in his power to make sure he knows the expectations, the standards which we’ve developed at that position.”

For his part, Love has kept a low profile since the season ended, posting a handful of workout videos on social media but apparently not doing any interviews. He last spoke publicly during Super Bowl week, when he said in an interview with Zach Gelb of CBS Sports Radio that he’s willing to bide his time and learn.

“I think the biggest thing I took from watching (Rodgers) is watching how he practices. The dude practices just like he plays. A super-consistent dude every day,” Love said. “I think I’m on the right path. Obviously, for me, it’s developing and learning the offense. That’s the biggest thing. Obviously, I’m a good player who can make plays. (I’m) just learning the offense and then when I finally get some time to get in a game, whether that’s preseason or what not, just getting to showcase that.”


Photos: Packers’ 2020 season in pictures

Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2020 through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

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