'New ideas' from Packers' young coaching staff clicking with veteran players
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers will get back to work on the field with their first organized team activity Monday, marking the first of four consecutive weeks in which new head coach Matt LaFleur can get on the field with his entire 2019 draft class and veterans.
And while LaFleur will attract most of the external attention this offseason, all but one of his offensive position coaches are commanding the attention of their players for the first time at the NFL level.
With the only marquee additions to the offense being free-agent lineman Billy Turner and draft picks Elgton Jenkins (guard), Jace Sternberger (tight end) and Dexter Williams (running back), it’s incumbent on LaFleur’s inexperienced staff to get the offensive veterans executing quickly.
While LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have experience coaching quarterbacks and calling plays in the NFL, only running backs coach Ben Sirmans has run a position room at this level before. The voluntary minicamp the week of the draft from April 28-30 was the first time Luke Getsy (quarterbacks), Alvis Whitted (wide receivers), Justin Outten (tight ends) and Adam Stenavich (offensive line) ran their respective rooms.
Not only that, those couple of days in late April were the first time any of them have worked directly for LaFleur or with one another on the field.
“I thought there was pretty good energy,” LaFleur said of his new coaches. “I think we’re still all learning each other, just like the players are learning us. But overall, I’m pleased with it. I do know this: We’ve got a lot of guys that are good character guys that care a lot about what they do.”
Much was made of LaFleur’s first impression when the team first showed up in early April for workouts, from his career-opening speech to the physical changes he has overseen at Lambeau Field, but in the meeting rooms his coaches had to do the same.
And the theme, at least at the outset, is of quick buy-in despite the overall youth and NFL experience by most of the position coaches.
“Yeah, they’re younger guys, but I guess that’s not really a big deal,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “It’s more about knowledge. What they’re teaching you. What they’re demanding of us. Obviously, we have to have a relationship with them. We’re going to be with them for a long time in the room, working a lot, doing things like that, but from an age standpoint — not a big deal.”
Bulaga is 30, and in his 10th season. Stenavich is 36, and his playing career ended months after Bulaga was drafted No. 23 overall by the Packers in 2010. The last two years were Stenavich’s first as a coach in the NFL, as an assistant in San Francisco.
“Everything’s been good so far,” Bulaga said. “New ideas, new things in the building, it’s always refreshing to see these types of things. I think Adam’s been really good in our room. Guys have really bought in to what he’s selling us and how he’s teaching us to do things. That’s gone really well.”
The offensive line room isn’t the only one that doesn’t have a generation gap.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis turns 35 on Sunday, and he was the No. 28 overall pick of the 2006 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. His coach Justin Outten, who will turn 36 in October, started his final 11 games as the center for the Syracuse Orange that same year. Jimmy Graham will be 32 in November.
But like with Stenavich, age proved to be nothing but a number for the tight ends initially.
“Getting a new, young coach, I think it just benefits all the way around,” said 25-year-old tight end Robert Tonyan. “We can all grow together and we can learn from each other. There are things that all three of us have to work on and get better at and there’s also things that ‘J.O.’ has to get better at. I think that we all do things well and his coaching style is very beneficial to us, because we’re all visual learners and we also like to go out there and do it to learn. He is learning (about) us and how we learn, rather than just doing it his way. However we like to learn is how he’s going to teach, and that’s very good.”
Whitted is the oldest of the new offensive coaching hires, as he’ll turn 45 at the start of the season. Of the entire offensive staff, only Sirmans is older. Whitted played for Jacksonville and Oakland from 1998 through 2006, but like many of his peers on the staff to date, his coaching resume had been limited to the college ranks.
As for Getsy, he has coordinated offenses in college but only coached quarterbacks while at Indiana University of Pennsylvania from 2011-12. But, the 35-year-old will have an assist from LaFleur and Hackett when it comes to getting the most out of that room.
“Luke and I were close back in those years he was here,” Aaron Rodgers said of Getsy’s original stint in Green Bay from 2014-17. “We had a great time together. He’s a lot of fun. We’ve got a lot of guys in the room with, obviously, those (Getsy, Hackett) and Matt.”
First impressions matter, of course. And those precious hours in that first minicamp in April provided positive ones for these new coaches. Now going forward, it’ll be about strengthening that rapport.
“I think everybody’s rejuvenated a little bit,” wide receiver Davante Adams said. “Obviously, these past two seasons we really didn’t get it done the way we wanted to, so having a new staff come in it’s been a lot of fun. Getting to learn a new offense has been pretty challenging as well. As a vet now, going into year six, the offense was not easy but once you get settled in (there's) not as much studying needed and different things like that, so it’s challenging me to stay in my book. It’s a level playing field now. The young guys, they can teach me stuff. I may forget a thing that (Marquez Valdes-Scantling) will remember and he’ll let me know. It’s fun. We all get to work together.”