Despite a number of combinations of the five players lined up in front of him on Sunday in Minneapolis, Aaron Rodgers had no trouble carving up the Minnesota Vikings defense. The Green Bay Packers offense had to deal with quite the game of musical chairs on the offensive line due to a trio of injuries, but the unit came together to put up a tremendous performance.
Head coach Matt LaFleur was quick to compliment that group during his Zoom press conference on Monday, complimenting the work of his big uglies up front.
“We knew that it was gonna be very important for us in both the run and the pass game to take care of their front,” LaFleur said. “It was super encouraging to get Rick Wagner in there and Jon Runyan, and to see Elgton (Jenkins) move around.”
Jenkins started at right tackle with Billy Turner out, but he shifted back to left guard late in the first half. Wagner and Runyan came on as replacements mid-game to fill in for starting guards Lucas Patrick and Lane Taylor, both of whom left with injuries. While Patrick appears on track to play this weekend, Taylor’s season is done early for the second straight year. LaFleur is disappointed, both from a football perspective and a personal perspective, saying “My heart goes out to him. Battling back to get back from the injury he had last year to get into our starting lineup, I feel bad for him as an athlete and as a man.”
While Wagner’s solid play at right tackle was perhaps unsurprising, given that he had played right tackle at a high level in the NFL for years, Runyan’s 15 NFL snaps in his debut were very impressive for the rookie sixth-round pick. It’s even more impressive when considering that he lined up almost exclusively at left guard in camp but took the field at right guard on Sunday afternoon.
“For the most part, he was only primarily playing on the left side throughout camp. For him to step inside there on the right side and perform at the level that there wasn’t a dropoff, that was a tremendous credit to his mentality and his preparation.” LaFleur also gave his offensive line coach, Adam Stenavich, and the assistant offensive line coach, Luke Butkus, much of the credit for the unit’s performance on Sunday, particularly in getting Runyan ready to play.
Moving forward, LaFleur isn’t sure what his offensive line will look like in week two. He had no updates on Turner or Patrick, and alluded to Wednesday’s injury report as the first real information that even he will have. But perhaps even more problematic than those players’ potential absences would be that of defensive tackle Kenny Clark.
Clark signed a massive new contract during training camp, but he only played a handful of first-half snaps against the Vikings before exiting the game with a groin injury. Like with the others, LaFleur was mum on any updates on Clark’s situation, saying that more information would come out “later in the week.”
Josiah Deguara makes an early impression
The head coach weighed in on rookie tight end Josiah Deguara, who also made his NFL debut on Sunday and lined up in almost every position imaginable. Deguara caught one pass for 12 yards, but he made an impact as a blocker both out of the backfield and on the edge.
“He’s got a lot of flexibility in terms of we can put him in the backfield or put him out wide in a WR position or we can use him as a movable F tight end,” LaFleur said. He also complimented Deguara’s intelligence, mentioning a moment in the game where the rookie covered up a mistake by another player: “There was a play in the game, we had guy where there was a guy who did something he wasn’t supposed to do and Josiah just played right off it and worked out perfectly.”
The coach threw a little bit of cold water on the thought process that he had banged the drum for Deguara in the draft process, however. Instead it was the team’s general manager, Brian Gutekunst, who noticed Deguara initially and brought him to the LaFleur’s attention instead of vice versa. “Gutey’s the guy that brought him to me throughout the draft process, said ‘why don’t you check out this guy’ and then we did some digging. That was Gutey’s find and certainly he fits with what we want to do.”
Go back to what works
Being a play-caller on offense is a lesson in taking criticism, and LaFleur has plenty to second-guess about his first season-plus at the helm of the franchise. Some of that came in the red zone on Sunday, as LaFleur said he wished he would have called some different plays in hindsight.
But one aspect of the job is being willing to identify what works and sticks with it, an approach that LaFleur apparently needs to be pushed to take on occasion. Regarding Sunday’s game, he said “I don’t know if I’ve ever repeated that many playcalls in a game,” mentioning some of the jet sweeps and motion as concepts that he returned to later on in the contest. But LaFleur shed a bit of light on his working relationship with Aaron Rodgers, saying “Aaron’s always getting on me that we can come back to some stuff.”
With Rodgers’ accuracy being “spot-on,” as LaFleur described it, come back to it he did, and the offense was all the better for it.