Packers dealing with learning curve of implementing new offense
GREEN BAY - Head coach Matt LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett were able to distribute their playbook to the Green Bay Packers offense for the first time April 8, and the last two days inside the Don Hutson Center they were able to get a look at the offense while implementing pieces of it on the new, full-length turf field inside.
And – as to be expected with all the new plays, language and coaches – there were some bumps in the road. That included some missed throws, drops, bobbled exchanges and an interception by cornerback Jaire Alexander.
“It’s a process. The offense is a process. Learning it is a process and executing it is a process,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “Probably was pretty sloppy the last few days but not really surprised, to be honest with you.”
This was especially the case Wednesday, as LaFleur said the coaches incorporated about 20 more passing concepts into the practice.
“I think there was a little bit more thinking today,” he said. “It definitely slowed down a little bit. That’s to be expected. I also think that just when you watch us, you’ve got a defense that’s really in year two of a system going against an offense that is year one, so some of that stuff occurs.”
For all the players, there is a learning curve. Bulaga and quarterback Aaron Rodgers admitted they’re studying more now than they’ve had to in many years. But, as LaFleur and Hackett said early in the offseason, the roots of the offense are similar to the West Coast system former head coach Mike McCarthy ran. So, some words within the offense are the same but the meaning is different – causing just that slightest bit of hesitation as the returning offensive players re-program on the fly.
“It definitely affects us – we have some of the same word calls but they’re completely different plays or completely different concepts,” wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling said. “It can definitely get confusing at times because you’re so used to going back to what we were doing last year. You hear the word and it triggers in your head and then it’s like 'oh wait, that’s not it.' You’ve got to re-evaluate and OK, what is the actual play that we’re running now? You’ve got to catch yourself sometimes. I’ve done that a few times, just going over it and saying yeah, I’ve got to get that out of my head, I’ve got to flush everything from last year out and learn brand new again.”
Wednesday was it for field work, however, as LaFleur has elected to hold just meetings and a weightlifting session Thursday before letting the team break. It’s a similar schedule to what Sean McVay did his first year in Los Angeles with the Rams in 2017. The veterans will return May 20, joining the rookie class for the first organized team activity of the spring.
Lane Taylor on road to recovery
After a disappointing season, left guard Lane Taylor reported to this week’s voluntary minicamp feeling the closest to healthy he has in a long time.
Taylor missed most of last offseason after having ankle surgery. He said recovery extended into the fall, forcing him to play on a bad ankle approximately half of 2018. He wasn’t cleared to run until last June, limiting his summer condition.
“It was good enough to play,” Taylor said. “It really was. It was good enough, and it was strong. ... Just the biggest thing for me was range of motion. I just didn’t have the same range of motion that I was used to.”
“It was frustrating, because there were times when it was stuff I wasn’t accustomed to. I mean, things would happen that probably wouldn’t happen to me if I could move a little bit better. If I was 100 percent, I would’ve played better.”
How the Packers address the offensive line in this week’s draft might indicate whether they expect Taylor to return to full capacity. They signed Billy Turner to a four-year, $28 million deal in free agency, and Turner presumably will get first crack at the right guard job. Turner took reps at right guard in limited team drills during Wednesday’s practice.
Taylor figures to keep the left guard job. He played well in 2016 and 2017, signing a three-year, $16.5 million contract before the '17 season. Now healthy, Taylor feels back to normal.
“I’m walking on my own two feet,” he said.
It’s just in time to fit into an outside zone blocking scheme that relies on lateral quickness, as opposed to former coach Mike McCarthy’s scheme that used a lot of downhill, combination blocks.
“With outside zone,” Taylor said, “you’re flatter than inside zone or combination block. It’s a lot flatter.”
If running back Jamaal Williams looks different, it’s because he is.
The Packers running back spent the offseason trying to get lean so he could add some wiggle to his game and be more than the power back who averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season.
“It was just me conditioning, me running and running,” Williams said. “I know I can always put back on muscle and get it back and everything. But it was pretty much me learning my body, just being a little more agile, not so sluggish.
“I was always fast, but I feel more confident where I’m at now. I’m trying to learn a new way of running, especially with running with my knees up and not getting tackled from behind, learning how to get in and out of my cuts, lowering into my cuts without being high and everything.”
Williams said he went home to Fontana, California and worked out with some coaches from his youth, spending time on track drills and running the hill he ran as a youngster. After that, he would run football drills with local kids who were learning how to play the game.
Despite the leaner body, Williams said he stills weighs around 215 pounds and hoped to stay there during the season. He knows it will be hard to stay that lean because he won’t be running as much, but he said the most important part was staying limber.
“I can always be a bruiser and all that,” he said. “But I’ll last longer if I learn how to not take so many hits and not want to take those hits. Instead of trying to run somebody over, get the juke in, make them miss.”
Wide receiver Jake Kumerow was hoping he would have time to fly to Nashville after the last day of minicamp Thursday so he could be with his cousin at the NFL draft.
He needs to be on time because it won’t be long before Nick Bosa, Kumerow’s first cousin, gets selected. He’s checking flight schedules to see if it’s possible to get there before Bosa’s name is called.
“I was at Joey’s (Nick’s brother) in Chicago,” he said. “It was easy to make the drive home because I was in Cincinnati and just drove (to Chicago) after practice Thursday. This one, driving to Nashville, from up here, might be 10-plus hours.
“Hopefully, I can get to this one. That would be sweet.”
Even though the three-day minicamp is voluntary, LaFleur had perfect attendance. The only player who didn’t practice was cornerback Kevin King, who was out with an undisclosed injury.
Practically all the veterans have workout bonuses in their contracts, which requires them to attend a specific number of offseason workouts in order to collect the full amount.