Mike McCarthy may be in Dallas, but the Packers still aren’t anyone’s underdogs. To hear Brian Gutekunst tell it at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, they aren’t worried about catching the 49ers, or any other team. It’s not about matchups, but about growth.
“It’s year-to-year,” Gutkunst said Tuesday morning in front of a bank of reporters.
“There’s probably a lot less carry over from year to year than people think. The challenges we’re going to face this year are really unknown. We’re not trying to catch any particular team. We’re trying to develop as a club.”
In other words, two embarrassing losses haven’t turned the 49ers into the NFC boogeyman. Gutekunst speaks often about process and believing in it, so much so he could be mistaken for a staffer in the 76ers organization. He says while players like Za’Darius Smith were frustrated the team wasn’t ready to pay in the NFC Championship Game, citing travel schedules, Gutekunst cautions against worrying too much about those marginal impacts.
“Everybody’s frustrated after a game like that and you’re searching for answers. Over the last couple months, we’ve done that too ... I understand where he’s coming from but I wouldn’t read too much into that.”
Now the task of making those improvements begins. For the Packers, continuity leads off with Matt LaFluer getting a full offseason with everyone already in the program, knowing the expectations and schemes. Of course, questions about the quarterback stand out, but Gutekunst insists the improvements can be team-wide.
“(The goal is) making it more instinctual for (Rodgers) so that each week, each game they’re going through, it’s just something that our team as a whole understands the nuances that Matt wants.”
There’s also the matter of trying to improve with the potential of fewer practice reps under a new CBA, one that could also take away preseason games. Gutekunst said it’s one more reason to like the joint practices, where veteran players can get some reps against better competition without as much risk as a live game. In turn, the games can be a showcase for young players to get reps under the lights.
As far as adding players this offseason, Gutekunst offered support for the players in his linebacker room, a potential weak spot moving forward with Blake Martinez set to be a free agent. The Packers GM said he felt “really good” about Oren Burks, citing his need to stay healthy.
“I think he has all the talent in the world to be a productive player for us,” he said of Burks before also mentioning 2019 preseason stars Ty Summers and Curtis Bolton as potential contributors.
At receiver, Gutekunst praised the depth of the class, suggesting the early 7-on-7 work players do set them up well for the NFL, comparing those camps to AAU in prep basketball. Players come in more ready than ever to contribute because they’ve had the fundamentals down for years.
TCU star Jalen Reagor confirmed he met with the Packers already and even watched some film. Reagor suggested there was significant interest there, though that’s far from an assurance he’d be a possible pick. Justin Jefferson, one of Joe Burrow’s top receivers at LSU, will also meet with the Packers this week, setting up Green Bay to take a look at a number of potential late first-round talents. Never one to tip his hand, or go over the top obfuscating, Gutekunst’s excitement in this receiver class dovetails with the team’s actions at the combine.
They clearly understand the need to add a dynamic piece on offense, one that could also come in free agency, Would a player like Austin Hooper make sense after Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said in Indy they’ll allow Hooper to test the market? The Packers reportedly showed interest at the trade deadline and he could come with a cheaper price tag than free agent receivers.
Whatever moves the Packers make, their GM insists it won’t be to catch another team, to find a matchup to improve, but rather to get better the most efficient and effective ways they can. The performances at the combine will go a long way in determining who those preferred players will be.
Watch Gutekunst’s full press conference below.