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As Jordan Love works to improve, Packers admit they aren’t exactly sure what they have in their young QB
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As Jordan Love works to improve, Packers admit they aren’t exactly sure what they have in their young QB

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GREEN BAY — Conversationally, the Green Bay Packers coaches and players are walking a challenging line when it comes quarterback Jordan Love.

Against the disconcerting backdrop of three-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers’ continued absence from their offseason program, and concerns that the future Pro Football Hall of Famer may never play another snap for the franchise, all eyes have been on Love during the two organized team activity practices that reporters have been allowed to attend over the past two weeks.

So, when questions arise about how much Love has improved, or why he threw so many checkdown passes during the open practice earlier in the week, or how ready Love would be if he had to start the team’s Sept. 12 regular-season opener at New Orleans, everyone — from coach Matt LaFleur, to players like tight end Robert Tonyan and running back Aaron Jones, to assistant coaches like offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and quarterbacks coach/offensive passing game coordinator Luke Getsy — seems to be trying to find ways to be complimentary and honest about Love’s development without giving the wrong impression about how far the youngster has come.

Or how far he has to go.

Keep in mind, even general manager Brian Gutekunst, whose decision to trade up in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft to select Love was the first domino in this saga, has admitted that Love has “a long way to go.” LaFleur has said as much, too.

And so it was on Thursday afternoon that Getsy and Hackett faced similar Love-centric questions to what LaFleur had one day earlier, following Wednesday’s open OTA practice. Both Hackett and Getsy spoke of Love’s improved confidence, of his better understanding of the system, of how hard he’s been working.

But when Getsy was asked how game-ready he thinks Love is, the response was telling.

“Nobody really knows, right?” Getsy said. “You don’t know until you get to play in a game or play in that situation.

“As far as where he’s at, where he was a year ago today to as we sit here in this room today, he’s light-years ahead. His comfortability with the offense is way, way improved. His ability to feel the rhythm of a concept, to feel the rhythm of a throw, is so much better. He’s so much more comfortable. Just the way he’s barking out the play call in the huddle and the way his command is at the line of scrimmage and the cadence and all that stuff, we’re progressing in a positive manner.

“(But) there’s no way that I could ever really answer that question with a fair assessment.”

Left unsaid, of course, is where Love’s starting point was to improve from.

In fairness, Love wasn’t drafted to be an instant starter, and circumstances — having last year’s offseason program wiped out, training camp being truncated, and preseason games being canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic — conspired against him early on. And being stuck as the No. 3 quarterback behind Rodgers and since-departed backup Tim Boyle significantly curtailed his in-season, on-field practice reps, too.

So, in truth, Love’s struggles in training camp last summer made it hard for him to do anything but improve.

And while his coaches are pleased with how much he studied the offensive playbook last season and tried to make the most of a year in which he never even got to wear his No. 10 jersey on game day, it’s important to keep in mind just how big of a difference there is between improving over where he was last season and actually being capable of running the Packers’ offense in a game that counts in the standings

“The more reps that he can get, the more he can understand his decision, timing and accuracy, the better he’s going to be,” Hackett said Thursday. “And I think that’s the progress we’re going (for) right now.

“When you look at it, any time you’re in OTAs, I mean, it’s so different. It’s just not real football until you’re out there in the stadium. I think it’s just about being able to make the proper decisions and understand it’s timing and accuracy and all those things have definitely been better up to this point. And I think the more experience, the more reps he can get, it’s going to help him.”

With COVID-19 media access protocols still in place, forcing all interviews into the virtual realm on Zoom video calls, the 22-year-old Love has not yet spoken with reporters this offseason.

It’s possible he’ll be among the players made available during next week’s mandatory three-day minicamp, which kicks off on Tuesday and which Rodgers is not expected to attend, despite fines that could be assessed for his absence.

The other quarterbacks in camp are veteran Blake Bortles, a 73-game starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2014 to 2018, where he was coached by Hackett; and Kurt Benkert, who has yet to throw a regular-season NFL pass in three years since entering the league and earned the No. 4 QB job during a tryout at last month’s rookie minicamp.

During Wednesday’s practice, Love dumped off roughly a half-dozen passes during an 11-on-11 period and didn’t complete many throws downfield. Whether there were opportunities that Love missed before settling for checkdowns, only the coaches who watched the film of practice can say for sure.

Asked Thursday about those checkdowns, Hackett responded by acknowledging that the coaches don’t want the quarterback to “force” the ball downfield, “but I think that you always want to understand when it’s open and where you can still find a completion. 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 (come) with time.”

Immediately after practice, LaFleur had been asked to assess what Love had done with the extra work he’s gotten in Rodgers’ absence. The third-year head coach said he felt Love was “really attacking it the right way. The focus is there, the work ethic. He’s grinding away and trying to get a little bit better each and every day.”

Then, LaFleur added, “I think there’s a lot of learning going on. (Wednesday) was the first competitive period that we had with a real pass rush, so that definitely throws some extra variables into the mix.

“It’s not that comfortable, nice, 7-on-7 where you don’t have any pressure and you’re just trying to progress through your reads, having the perfect footwork. Now you might have to avoid the rush a little bit, manipulate the pocket and so I think there’s just so much good learning that goes on in those situations.”

If Rodgers doesn’t come to minicamp, Love will get more opportunities in those situations, and should do so with the team’s top receivers, who haven’t attended the technically voluntary OTA practices so far.

Still, it’s clear that the team is trying to be ultra-supportive of Love while being realistic about where he is in his development.

“Right now, it’s not truly real football. It’s practice and there’s no pads,” Hackett reiterated. “So I think him making those good decisions is so critical, and it’s something he’s developing in and he’s getting better at. And that just needs to continue.”


Photos: Packers’ 2020 season in pictures

Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

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