GREEN BAY — No one — not coach Matt LaFleur, not offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, not quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy, certainly not quarterback Aaron Rodgers himself — thinks it’s a good thing Rodgers has barely practiced over the past month.
But there is one Green Bay Packers quarterback who is big-time benefitting from Rodgers missing time — first after testing positive for COVID-19, and then because of the fractured left pinkie toe the reigning NFL MVP sustained while working out during his quarantine.
The Packers’ second-year backup and heir apparent to Rodgers started in Rodgers’ place in the 13-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 7 in Kansas City. While his first meaningful NFL regular-season playing time — Love never even got to wear his No. 10 jersey on a game day as a rookie last season as he was inactive for all 18 games (including playoffs) — was extremely valuable for his development, the practice time he has gotten for the past three weeks since then with Rodgers unable to go has likely done even more for him.
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“Yeah, if there’s definitely a plus, it is for Jordan’s benefit in terms of him getting the reps and going out there and making sure that he gets a little bit better each and every day,” LaFleur acknowledged before the players got the full week off for the bye, with the team set to return to practice next Monday.
After preparing as the starter before facing Kansas City, Love took all the snaps with the No. 1 offense the week of the Nov. 14 shutout of the Seattle Seahawks, even though Rodgers was activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list the day before the game and started. Because Rodgers was subject to a 10-day quarantine as an unvaccinated player, Love ran the offense while Rodgers bided his time before being allowed back in the building.
Since then, though, Love has continued to take virtually all of the starter’s snaps in practice as Rodgers has been hobbled with his toe injury. Rodgers was limited to roughly 15 snaps in 11-on-11 periods during the Friday practice in advance of the Nov. 21 loss at Minnesota, and he didn’t take a single snap all week in practice in advance of last Sunday’s 36-28 victory over the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field.
That’s equated to an extraordinary amount of practice time — and a ton of the study-worthy practice film that comes with it — that Love never would have gotten otherwise.
“I think just getting those reps and being out there with them, it’s definitely helped me and helped others build a better chemistry (with me),” Love said of the unexpected practice opportunities. “It’s just something that takes time and takes reps.”
What will happen next week with Rodgers is unclear. He eschewed surgery on the toe during the bye week, though he said during his weekly appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show” on Tuesday surgery has not been completely ruled out. Presumably, Rodgers will at best be limited in practice heading into the team’s Dec. 12 matchup with the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field, and given how much better Rodgers said his toe felt against the Rams after a full week of resting it by not practicing, Love very well could get all the practice work leading up to the Bears game, too.
All this work stands in stark contrast to how little practice action Love got as a rookie in 2020. With Rodgers taking all the starter snaps each week and primary backup Tim Boyle running the scout team in order to be ready if Rodgers were to go down with an injury, Love got barely any 11-on-11 practice work and was relegated to spending extra time with Getsy to try to make up for what he was missing by being third on the depth chart.
“That experience (Love is getting now) is so hard to get,” Hackett said. “I mean, you go across the league and whether it be a new quarterback, a young quarterback, somebody that’s in a brand new offensive system, it’s arguably the most difficult position to play in all of sports. And, any experience you can get is going to help somebody grow and learn.
“Jordan, to be able to go out there and practice as the starter and get all those reps — whether he plays in the game or not — I mean, you just don’t get that.
“His first year, he didn’t get any of those reps. So all those things (you do in practice), you gain more and more. Whether you do something bad, you get to learn from that. Do something good, you get to understand where you can put the ball even better. I mean, it’s invaluable. So I think this is a great opportunity for him to continually grow.”
And while no one — including the Packers coaches themselves — can say for certain Love will be ready to ascend to the starting job in 2022 if the Packers and Rodgers part ways, there have been moments in practice where that growth is evident.
For example, in the days leading up to the loss to the Vikings, Love stepped to the line of scrimmage for one play in 11-on-11 and saw the scout-team defense present one of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s most confusing pre-snap blitz looks. According to Getsy, the 23-year-old Love read the front and the coverage behind it like a vet, made the right protection adjustment and read, and completed the pass.
“That isn’t easy to see with what the Vikings do,” Getsy explained. “But he picked up the tip, he saw the coverage and he made the play. So, things like that are fun to see him executing each and every day.
“When Aaron’s not practicing, that gives him opportunities to continue to grow. So, that part of it is all good. Once you get that taste of preparing as a starter for a week, I think that part of it helps in the sense of, ‘Oh, that’s the way I’m really supposed to prepare.’ I think all that is really good because you can definitely see a different level of diving into some details that maybe he didn’t do before, that you just naturally want to do when it’s your turn. All of that’s positive stuff.”