The Green Bay Packers intended to hold a press conference with head coach Matt LaFleur on Friday afternoon, and as has been the case on nearly every conference call the team has had this year, there were major technical difficulties.
Just on Friday alone, someone failed to mute their phone line repeatedly, and the call eventually had to be paused for about eight minutes. While LaFleur struggled to hear a question, takes from a TV or radio shock-jock railing about the Aaron Rodgers-Jordan Love situation drowned out the call. But when the call was functional, LaFleur took questions about the strange offseason plan, his quarterbacks, and more.
Naturally, the hot topic was how Aaron Rodgers would handle the team’ selection of another quarterback with the team’s top draft pick. LaFleur is not concerned about it upsetting Rodgers, nor does he see it lighting a fire under him for good or ill: “He’s very motivated and he doesn’t need external motivation — I don’t think it’s going to drive him more than if we had drafted anybody else,” LaFleur said. He also complimented Rodgers’ professionalism in the team’s virtual meetings, adding that “every time we get together, he continues to prove why he’s the leader of our team.”
Those videoconference meetings have formed the backbone of the NFL’s offseason program in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and LaFleur is finding a silver lining there. “You’re always constantly evaluating your players, but you do a lot more self-evaluation now in terms of how you communicate,” he said, explaining the team’s process for setting up the format for the players to learn. He said that the majority of the instruction comes in the form of videos prepared by the coaching staff featuring voice-over instruction and commentary which is then reinforced in the shorter live calls. He praised the staff’s creativity in adapting to the new system, saying that the system has been a “great tool” for the coaches as they watch and adapt their own teaching styles.
One of the areas that is a major focus this offseason is the no-huddle offense, and that area has been ripe for more in-person conversation. LaFleur said he wants to simplify the language used in that area a bit to help playcalls flow more quickly when the team is moving with a faster tempo. The focus has been getting him, his top offensive assistants, and Rodgers on the same page, which has come through more of the face-to-face interaction: “it’s been great having these Zoom meetings, especially myself, Hackett, Getsy, and Aaron to have a lot of one-on-ones.”
On the topics of specific players, LaFleur went out of his way to praise new Packer Christian Kirksey when discussing the linebacker position as a whole. He said that he felt “really fortunate” that the team could bring in Kirksey, especially given his familiarity with Mike Pettine’s defense, noting that he has been “super impressed” with the linebacker’s work ethic and ability to pick up and understand the scheme so quickly.
Reggie Begelton also drew some praise from the head coach, particularly for his work on the mental side during the remote installations. LaFleur said that Begelton has dived into the installs, and that “he is routinely at the top” among the receivers in terms of their grading on the team’s quizzes about those presentations. Although the former CFL star has yet to take the field for a practice, it seems that he has made a good first impression on LaFleur.
The two new coaches on the Packers’ staff also drew praise from their boss. On secondary coach Jerry Gray, he noted that the former Vikings assistant was both a former defensive coordinator and “a hell of a player,” calling him a great resource for the staff and team as a whole. Meanwhile, Jason Vrable, the new wide receivers coach, is evidently a film junkie: “He’s so well-prepared; this guy watches as much tape as probably anybody I’ve ever been around,” LaFleur said. “He always has examples for the guys to teach and show these guys what we’re trying to get accomplished.”
For now, the plan will be to continue moving forward with the remote installations and instruction until the NFL deems it appropriate for teams — all teams — to return to their facilities. Until the point when that changes, the opportunity to dive fully into the scheme and help the players absorb it as well as possible is the staff’s primary, and perhaps only, goal.