More than once this summer, Jordan Love ripped a ball over the netting during drill work. Generally, he’d reset, work the footwork again and find the net, but this is the Green Bay Packers’ rookie quarterback’s progression in microcosm. He’s not going to do everything right the first time and luckily Green Bay doesn’t need him to. As coach Matt LaFleur asked of him, just get 1% better every day. For Love, the question wasn’t going to be if he could push to start in 2020, but rather would he show enough progress to harness his immense physical tools? The key for him isn’t avoiding struggles—they’re going to come—but struggling in the right kind of way.
The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman made some waves earlier this week when he put Love on his list of players whose stock fell in camp, pointing out Love hadn’t displayed the kind of “wow” arm talent scouts insisted the Utah State product possessed coming out of college. But we know what kind of arm talent he has. Love’s ability to lace throws all over the field, off platform, and on the run, served as a foundational reason Brian Gutekunst traded up to get him with the 26th pick in the draft.
He’s not playing freely yet. When asked what he brings to the Packers after he was taken, Love described himself as a playmaker. His preternatural ability to create flows from an inherent comfort in the set offense. At Utah State, the set offense often looked like “Hey Jordan, we’re running four verticals, so figure it out and make a play.” Green Bay will require much more of him on the mental side, as with any college quarterback making the leap to the NFL.
“We tell the quarterbacks indecisive equals ineffective and I know there’s a lot going through his mind right now, but sometimes you just got to shut it off and let your instincts take over and really go out and rip the ball and that’s kind of the challenge to him right now,” LaFleur said of Love, whose playmaking instincts appealed to the Packers.
For now, Green Bay players and coaches are saying all the right things about Love’s development. This is the normal course of adjustment to NFL life for a 21-year-old Mountain West quarterback. It’s worth remembering that Rodgers was likewise a bit of a mess in his first training camp. It doesn’t seem to be that Love is slow to understand concepts or read defense, but rather that he’s swimming in an ocean of new information.
“The virtual stuff really enabled us to dive deep in the details of the offense, so I think for a new guy that just walked into a building at the end of the July, to be where he’s at mentally, I think he’s in a pretty good place,” insisted quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy.
In other words, they expected this and on the curve—for a rookie with no offseason—he’s not behind. Love himself said the difference for him is going to be reps, echoing a premise Rodgers mentioned related to a potential Year 2 leap in LaFleur’s offense. He just needs the experience.
“Without the experience, you feel like he just needs more time to learn how to be able to play and go out there and play within the system,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said this week.
“And I think that’s what sometimes you’re seeing is he gets that play call, he gets up to the line, he gets everything and it’s like, ‘OK, now let’s play.’ Sometimes, it’s that instinct that’s got to take over, and I think that he’s not 100 percent sure at times. That’s why experience is so important, especially at that position. So, the more practice that he can get, the more situations we can give him, the better he’ll be.”
So, Love needs time. We knew that when he was drafted and the Packers administration, including the GM and coach, admitted as much. Not yet seeing his playmaking or fully cutting his arm loose isn’t surprising. In fact, there’s a case it’s encouraging: He’s focused on the things he’s learning. Get the footwork right. Make sure the reads are correct. If he were playing loose, he’d probably be playing loose with the ball, not fully absorbing the plan. We know he can chuck the ball around the yard when he wants to. Love wants to get better.
“As a quarterback you’ve got to say, you’re one play away, two snaps away,” said Love. “Never know what will happen.”
Unfortunately, Love doesn’t always know what will happen after he snaps the ball, but that will take time. According to the coaches he understands the schemes, knows the what and why of it. The goal will be to become comfortable enough with it to let instinct take over, to play the way he did at Utah State, only with the additional refinement of the footwork and progression system he’s learning in this offense. The extent to which he can marry the two will ultimately determine if he succeeds or fails, but so far, being a little overwhelmed is also being on track.