Packers head coach Matt LaFleur discusses the importance of rookie camp and what can be accomplished in these first few days. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews
GREEN BAY – In just a few months, Green Bay Packers safety Darnell Savage gained eight pounds, dropped 2% body fat, decreased his 40-yard dash time from 4.53 to 4.36 and increased his vertical jump from 35 to 39.5 inches.
Then he got drafted in the first round.
Savage said he had taken time off after Maryland’s season and was starting from less than a peak position physically, but he said the work he did helped him post the third-fastest 40-yard dash time of any defensive back at the scouting combine.
Asked if he thought his performance in the 40-yard dash earned him a lot of money, Savage said no.
“I think I was pretty fast, and people knew that,” Savage said. “They knew my play speed was fast.”
Savage’s trainer at TestSports in New Jersey, Kevin Dunn, said the 5-11, 197-pound Savage performed so well at the combine because he’s that good of an athlete. With his degree finished after the fall semester, Savage was able to work from early in the morning to late in the afternoon on all aspects of his training.
Everything that was asked of him, he did.
“We changed his body composition,” Dunn said. “He was a fast kid coming in; our job was to make him faster and make sure he broke that 4.4 barrier. He was running in the high 4.4s and low 4.5s when he got here.
“We got him down to a 4.36. I still don’t think that’s his ceiling.”
Dunn said Savage’s professionalism was what struck him the most and it is why he thinks he will have a long career in the NFL. When it was time to work, he worked, and when it was time to back off and rest his body, he rested.
All of the testing got him where he is now, but Savage’s next test will be performing on the football field, the place he said he feels most comfortable. Dunn said the Packers will quickly release what they have in their second of two first-round picks.
“He played safety at Maryland, but he can play corner, he can play nickel, he can return kicks,” Dunn said. “He’s such a versatile guy, which is why he was the first DB off the board, just because he has a ton of options.
“He’s a game changer Day One. He’s going to make an impact.”
No chopped liver
Dunn has some history with the Packers’ other first-round pick, Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary.
Scouts have said Gary is a top-10 athlete in the 2019 draft and Dunn knows why.
When Gary was a senior at Paramus Catholic High School in Bergen County, N.J., Dunn’s team trained him. He was considered the No. 1 high school football recruit in the nation and looking to reach his athletic potential.
“This kid is a freak of nature,” Dunn said. “We actually had (former NFL linebacker) Bart Scott involved in his life just coming in to work with him a little bit. He’s the real deal. He’s a real solid athlete.
“I’m curious to see how he translates to the next level because he’s not going to get away with raw talent. I think he’s still going to develop his skill. He has an insane upside, in my opinion.”
In the quarterback’s shoes
In high school, seventh-round linebacker Ty Summers was a quarterback and was recruited as a junior to play that position at Rice.
Several Division II schools were also interested.
“So then, senior year, while playing quarterback, TCU was like, ‘Hey, we have our quarterbacks, two of them already, but we’d like you to play linebacker.’
“I was like, ‘OK, Big 12 football, Gary Patterson’s defense, for sure.’”
After starting for four seasons, Summers is now an inside linebacker. But he said he still uses his quarterback experience to help him play defense.
“I understand route combinations having been a quarterback,” Summers said. “Obviously, at the next level in the NFL they’re going to throw all sorts of different stuff at you, but at least at the college level, I was able to predict that a little bit, based off my knowledge of what I’m looking for as a quarterback.
“So, I’d try to bait things from time to time if I could. I feel like having been a quarterback my whole life definitely put me in the right spot and helped me when it came to playing linebacker.”
The only rookie wide receivers coach Matt LaFleur will be tutoring are undrafted ones and so there isn’t a ton of pressure on him to get an inexperienced guy ready to play.
It might not be a bad thing because newcomers must learn a ton of different formations and motions in his quick-passing attack. Whereas receivers in former coach Mike McCarthy’s offense had to learn a ton of checks at the line of scrimmage, LaFleur’s must understand how formations affect a given play.
“They’ve got to master the formations,” LaFleur said “Because within our offense, we’ve got the ability to line up anywhere on the field. And the way we teach conceptually, it’s either a 3-by-1 concept or a 2-by-2 concept.
“But again, the foundation for these guys is, you learn the formations, and then you learn each concept. And then you can line up wherever you need be. But certainly it helps when you have smart football players for them to be able to pick it up a little bit quicker.”
The only receiver general manager Brian Gutekunst has provided LaFleur during the offseason is undrafted rookie Matthew Eaton. He’ll be counting on the second-year trio of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore to shoulder a big load.
The rookie class will head home this week and then return the following week to join the veterans for the rest of the offseason conditioning program.
LaFleur and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine have been installing the offense since players reported in mid-April and they won’t be able to start over when the rookies arrive. So, there will be a lot of catching up to do and no slowing down the operation.
“You want to be able to integrate these guys into Phase 2, into the drill work right away because you don’t want to slow it down for your veterans,” LaFleur said of the work done during the orientation. “So, they’ve got to be ready to go.
“This is a great opportunity for our coaches to present the drills that we’re going to be implementing within Phase 2 and for them to just kind of hit the ground running and get just that base, that foundation.”