When Matt LaFleur looks at a quarterback, there’s not just one thing or one recipe for a good player at the position. On Tuesday at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, the Green Bay Packers’ head coach talked at length to national and local media, and one of the more lengthy and revealing comments he provided involved the qualities he looks for in a signal-caller.
“There’s so many levels to this,” LaFleur noted, prefacing his response by warning media members that a long answer was coming. “First and foremost, when I look at quarterbacks, I want somebody that from a talent perspective is a natural thrower, and that is fearless. What I mean by that, is he gonna stand in there and take one on the chin and deliver the football? And then you have the element can he create off-schedule?”
These comments reveal just how much of scouting a quarterback is intangible. Quarterbacks rarely run at a full sprint or have to evade tacklers in space. Throwing the football is a skill based in repetition and consistency, and it’s one that is not well-quantified with the tools that the NFL has at its disposal right now.
“A lot of times it’s that internal wiring that really allows a player to reach their full potential,” LaFleur continued. “It’s not necessarily just a cookie-cutter thing that we look for — every player is different. You have to take their past experiences and what offenses they’ve played in in the college game and take that all into account.”
In 2020, the Packers could well be in play to take a quarterback. Aaron Rodgers turned 36 in December, and he arrived in Green Bay when Brett Favre was a year younger. But would LaFleur be willing to coach up a young quarterback while Rodgers is still in the room?
That answer is a clear yes. “I don’t think you can ever have enough of those guys,” he said; “(if) you find a guy and he’s sitting there in the right spot, I think you have to take a chance on him.”
This echoes the comments from general manager Brian Gutekunst last week, who said that he would be willing to take a QB with the 30th pick if he were in love with a player. But it’s clear that this offense will still be focused around Aaron Rodgers until he shows signs that he just can’t do it any more. But don’t tell LaFleur that Rodgers’ passer rating slipped in 2019, because he doesn’t want to hear it.
“The passing rating, I don’t even look at that any more. I don’t think it’s a true indication of evaluating whether a quarterback played well or not,” LaFleur snapped when a reporter rattled off Rodgers’ 2019 numbers. “I thought he played pretty damn good last year. He led us to 13 wins and a playoff win. Certainly there’s areas for all of us to improve upon, and that starts with me first.”
One area where the Packers can improve is by developing Rodgers’ young receiving weapons. After Gutekunst spoke highly of tight end Jace Sternberger earlier in the day, LaFleur echoed that excitement with his own. “I thought he was playing some good ball at the end of the season in the limited reps that he got,” LaFleur said, adding that tight ends coach Justin Outten was essential in bringing him up to speed after his return from injured reserve.
Another key young weapon for the Packers is wide receiver Allen Lazard, who broke out around midseason to become the team’s number two wideout. LaFleur said that Lazard “earned every rep he got,” adding that much of the road to earning those snaps came on special teams. “That’s kind of a good blueprint for young players coming in: You produce on special teams, you earn that trust from the coaching staff. And not only the coaching staff but our players as well, specifically our quarterback.”
Of course, building up trust and chemistry with Rodgers is no easy task, as communication is essential to both a functioning offense and a functioning relationship between passer and receiver. For the Packers last season, the communication was lacking, to the point that the team barely ran any no-huddle. That all starts with the language that the team uses to call in plays from the sideline and communicate between players on the field.
“I think it’s the terminology, the verbage,” LaFleur said when asked about the lack of no-huddle last fall. “That’s something that we’ve got to do a good job as a staff of laying the foundation in the offseason so it’s second nature (on the field).” LaFleur added that this will help the overall function of the offense as well, particularly getting plays called in quicker from the sideline.
As the Packers continue working their way through the player acquisition phase of the offseason, LaFleur already has his eyes on training camp. He confirmed that the Packers will hold joint practices with another NFL team again this summer, though he would not reveal just yet which team that would be. He also added that at that time of the year, it’s helpful to see some different schemes on both sides of the football rather than just practicing against your own on the other side of the football.
Still, for the time being, LaFleur and his coaching staff are focused on being a resource for Gutekunst and the scouts. There remains one notable absence on that staff, however, as the Packers have yet to hire a wide receivers coach following the firing of Alvis Whitted last month.
LaFleur insisted that he is not specifically looking for a coach with extensive NFL experience, however, which lines up with how he has assembled the rest of his staff. A handful of the Packers’ position coaches had little experience in their current roles with NFL teams prior to arriving in Green Bay. For LaFleur, it’s all about making sure they are right for the team: “We have a lot of guys (out there) that have a lot of experience, but it’s just trying to find the right fit,” he said. “Not just for the staff, but for our players and for them to go out and perform at their best.”
On defense, however, LaFleur still feels that Mike Pettine is that fit. In fact, he said that he was never considering firing the defensive coordinator this spring, despite some comments just after the Packers’ NFC Championship Game loss to the 49ers that seemed to suggest otherwise. When asked if he was ever unsure about retaining Pettine, LaFleur responded “there was never a doubt” and added that he would not make a quick decision after just a single game. “I thought our defense did a lot of great things (in 2019). Certainly there are areas we need to improve upon, but it’s not just defensively. It’s on offense and on special teams as well.”
LaFleur and his staff will be hard at work the rest of this week in Indianapolis, helping out with player evaluations where they can and conducting interviews with draft prospects. But once this phase of the offseason wraps up, it’s back to work on the offense as a whole as the Packers look to make it one game farther in 2020 than they did in 2019. LaFleur attended Super Bowl LIV to support his brother Mike, an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers, and he wasn’t happy about it.
“It’s not fun,” he said. “I told my wife, ‘I’ll never come back to another Super Bowl unless we’re playing in it.’ Here we are a year later one game away from the Super Bowl, and you have your brother in the Super Bowl ... I know I’ll never be satisfied until we’re holding that Lombardi Trophy.”
Check out LaFleur’s full national press conference here.