The Green Bay Packers’ offense has changed drastically over the past 18 months or so. Following Mike McCarthy’s departure as head coach, the team brought in Matt LaFleur as his replacement and Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator. The two have moved the Packers towards more of a wide-zone running scheme with a focus on play action, a different take from the more traditional West Coast offense that McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers ran for years.
This offseason, the Packers also appeared to focus their player acquisition on further enhancing the new scheme, adding a big, athletic running back in AJ Dillon and a versatile tight end in Josiah Deguara on day two of the 2020 NFL Draft. They did so while passing over a large group of talented rookie wide receivers, but if there are any complaints from the quarterback, Hackett isn’t hearing them.
“I’m really excited about everyone we have on this team and Aaron is too,” Hackett told the media in a Zoom call on Wednesday morning. “Aaron is awesome to be around and to work with and he’s been an absolute pleasure to be around this year.”
The play action game was inconsistent in 2019, but Hackett acknowledged that it has been a focal point for the offense this August in the group’s second training camp together. “We know it’s something that we want to do,” he said, before going on a lengthy discussion of the stresses that the concept places on a defense. Ultimately, he echoed again Rodgers’ buy-in: “Aaron’s really embraced it and he’s enjoying it and you can see some of those things start to develop. Being in a second year in a system is so much better for everybody.”
During the COVID-affected offseason that saw the team move to all virtual instruction before training camp, the entire team had to focus on the playbook and the scheme, which has seemingly been a blessing in disguise. Hackett was one of the key architects of the Packers’ virtual curriculum and he noted that everyone had challenges with it, saying “a lot of the coaches got mad at me I think because I was making them do very unique things.” So far, however, he feels that that the hard work in front of the screen this spring has paid off so far in camp: “It didn’t put us too far behind, it allowed us to go right into individual meetings instead of having to install things ... I feel like they know the system better.”
One of the critical pieces to improve going into this staff’s second year was the communication, particularly so the team can be more efficient in hurry-up situations. Hackett echoed LaFleur’s previous comments about simplifying the terminology of the offense to help streamline the playcalls in the huddle, saying that individual keywords are now more prevalent: “They know that when they hear this one word, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish, this is where the quarterback is trying to go with the ball, that’s where everybody needs to be spatially across the field. That’s allowed us to expand some of the things we want to do in the offense and it’s just got to keep advancing.”
Hopefully that advancement will be evident when the Packers take the field in Minnesota for their season opener on September 13th.