GREEN BAY – The prospect of change – and certainly the sound and look of it – isn’t new to Lambeau Field. The Green Bay Packers’ iconic stadium has undergone far more than mere facelifts over the years, inside and out.
But with the club making its first coaching change since 2006, Matt LaFleur was intent on making his first impression go beyond an opening speech or installation of a new playbook. Fans who have taken a repeat tour of Lambeau Field of late no doubt noticed a lighting change (it’s much brighter) outside the locker room and the addition of photos of the stadium evolving on the wall adjacent to the media auditorium.
The brighter light is now a part of the hallway leading out of the locker room, which fans will see once television broadcasts and team videos show the team walking out to enter the field of play.
“I just think there’s got to be a good feeling when you walk into the building,” LaFleur said. “And so certainly, that was an important part of that. There was a lot of paint involved and a lot of hard work ... I was joking with the guys the other day, it’s been both a blessing and a curse to be in so many different places, but I will say the support that this organization has and the urgency with which the people that work inside this building work, has been really impressive. And I feel really fortunate to be around these guys.”
To date, the locker room didn’t get a facelift and there wasn’t a shift in where players were situated. But other details were added. The fonts of the clocks changed and there’s new imaging on the walls leading in and out of the locker area.
“Yeah, I got a sense of Matt coming in, coach wanting to make it his own and kind of give it his own touches, his own swag, his own feeling to it and kind of brighten up the place,” said fourth-year wide receiver Geronimo Allison, who has been in the building this offseason rehabbing from last year’s core muscle injury. “Sometimes that’s what you have to do – you have to make it your own and kind of give it that fresh start. That definitely kind of stuck out right away.
“Everything has a meaning behind it. Everything has a meaning behind it. Just his new slogans; everything has a purpose.”
But perhaps most notably, the look of the team room changed. It’s not just new paint, new slogans and new photos but there is a focus on 2019 rather than teams of the past.
“Yeah, I wanted to make it about these guys, and when you come to the Green Bay Packers, obviously you respect the tradition, the history, but for us, and this football team, it’s about making history,” LaFleur said. “We’ll always pay credit and respect to what’s been done here in the past, but again, it’s for us, it’s moving forward. And the expectation level is always going to be great in this organization, as it should be, and that’s really the vibe and what I want our guys to focus on.”
And it was a noticeable change for those who have been in Green Bay as long as 14 seasons or as few as two.
“I was offended,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers joked. “No, I mean, I think the great thing about Matt is it’s been very clear messaging. He’s been great in front of the room. It’s a forward focus. It’s about building today for a better tomorrow. He’s done a great job of talking about how the most important thing is us moving forward together and having a deference and appreciation for the past. ... We haven’t won a Super Bowl in a while, so that’s the goal, and it’s about doing things with this team right now. I mean, it’s Green Bay. The history and tradition of excellence. So nobody has a problem with the past or bashing the past or offending anybody from the past. But we want to do something special moving forward.”
Added wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling: “It’s just kind of like a revive thing, give us some new energy, change the culture around here. It’s been a hundred seasons, you know, so you’re coming in with a new head coach and he wants to give it a new feel, a new look to our organization. I think he’s doing a really good job of that."
Soaking it all in
Kicker Sam Ficken said he chalked up being in Green Bay this offseason to the business side of football.
Ficken spent four games over two years kicking for the Los Angeles Rams and signed with Seattle at the end of last year, hoping for a chance to compete for a full-time job. He signed a futures contract with the Seahawks and was their only kicker until they signed free agent Jason Myers on March 14.
Ficken was waived a month later and the Packers claimed him.
“I always tell my family members let’s not try to get too far ahead of ourselves in any one spot,” Ficken said. “I’m just in a situation where I go with the flow.”
Though he’s kicked in some pressure situations – he’s 3 of 6 on field goals and 14 of 15 on extra points – he does not have a loaded resume. What attracts teams to him is his big leg. Eleven of his 13 kickoffs with the Rams were touchbacks.
He said he isn’t trying to do anything differently and hoped to learn from Green Bay’s all-time leading scorer Mason Crosby.
“A guy can only dream about being with a team as long as he’s been here,” Ficken said. “He’s done a tremendous job. I’m just trying to learn as much as I possibly can from him.”
Shouldering heavier load
Cornerback Kevin King came back for offseason conditioning considerably stronger in his chest, shoulders and lower body, something he hopes will help him last an entire season.
King has landed on injured reserve each of his first two seasons. He came to the Packers with a loose left shoulder joint as a rookie and wound up needing surgery halfway through the 2017 season. Last year, he suffered groin and hamstring injuries that landed him on injured reserve with three games to go.
He has played in just 15 games in two seasons.
“I feel good,” King said. “I’m just trying to build up my body and get everything right and try to get ready for this season. I’m still working on (the shoulder) and rehabbing it, but it’s just something we stay on top of, so I don’t have that problem again.
“It’s just trying to be able to play all 19, 20 games.”
This is the first offseason King has not had considerable restrictions on what he could do in the weight room.
LaFleur’s first practice of his Packers career was closed to the media.
Typically, minicamp practices are open to reporters, but LaFleur said he wanted privacy on the first day.
“We can’t share all our secrets early on,” he said with a smile. “No. I think just thought it was important for us on the first day for it to just be us and kind of set the expectations and whatnot.”
LaFleur said reporters would be allowed inside practice Wednesday.