GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers decided to be diplomatic Thursday when he was asked whether he was looking forward to practicing against the Houston Texans on Aug. 5 and 6.
It will be the first time the Packers have held a training camp practice with another team since 2005 when the Buffalo Bills came to town for several practices.
“Um,” Rodgers said, pausing for a second. “I think it’s good for all of us.”
When former teammate John Kuhn, who works for the team’s website, asked him if he ever had practiced against another team during camp, Rodgers explained his reticence.
“Actually, you weren’t here,” he said to Kuhn. “This was back against Buffalo, 2005, and then we did the Family Night scrimmage against Buffalo here my rookie year. I completed one pass – it was a great pass – and was 1-for-7.
“I think the thing that you worry about with joint practices is the fighting and guys in compromised situations. So, hopefully, everybody’s on the same page for that because every year, all of us, we do it, we look around, we watch the TV, we see a huge fight.
“Dallas against somebody or L.A. against Oakland and the fans are fighting. That’s what you don’t want. Hopefully, the guys come with the right approach. If they do, it’s going to get a lot of great work. If they don’t, we’re going to be wasting our time breaking up fights all the time.”
Brawls seem to have become a rite of joint practices.
Last summer, Washington and the New York Jets got into one and the fights spread all the way to the rope that separated fans from the sideline. A fight between two players escalated into a major brawl when the Colts and Ravens practiced together last summer.
In 2017, the Rams and Chargers engaged in several fights and the Buccaneers and Jaguars had a dust-up in joint practices.
And in 2015, the Texans and Washington went at it with each other and it was captured on HBO’s "Hard Knocks" series that follows a team all through camp.
The Packers and Bills had no incidents during their two-day joint practices. Coaches Mike Sherman and Mike Mularkey went to great lengths to make sure there weren’t any fights and the two teams ate dinner together after one of the practices.
Red-zone drills designed for competition
Before the final period of his first training camp practice as Packers head coach, Matt LaFleur called the entire team together near midfield. The final nine plays were going to be red-zone, 11-on-11 football – and LaFleur had a message about it afterward.
“We’re about competition," LaFleur said. "And that last period was a competition. It was third down and goal and you either win or you lose.”
Aaron Rodgers’ group went 0-for-3, with middle linebacker Blake Martinez intercepting one pass.
“I’ve been working on my flexibility this offseason so I got a little lower than I normally do and maybe he couldn’t see me there,” Martinez said with a smile. “No, I’m just kidding. I don’t know. It’s just one of those plays where I did what I was supposed to do and, the next thing I know I was like, ‘Wait, this thing’s coming right at me. I guess I should pick it off.’”
Tim Boyle’s group went 1-for-3, with a Kyler Fackrell interception on one play and a touchdown throw to Darrius Shepherd on another. On the interception, someone from the defensive sideline yelled “pick it” right as Boyle made his decision to throw, and the Packers’ linebacker snatched it out of the air.
“It is the first day – but those big, impact plays, those are important,” Fackrell said. “That’s really what I think we’ve been spotty with the last couple of years. We’ve had stretches where we’ve made a lot of big plays like that and made turnovers and then there were other stretches where we didn’t make any. Getting more consistent with making those kind of plays has been an emphasis. That’s going to be a big area for improvement for the defense.”
The session was encouraging for safety Adrian Amos, who came over via free agency from Chicago. Last year the Bears led the NFL in scoring defense (17.7 points) but also were the No. 5 defense in the red zone, allowing just a 50% conversion rate. The Bears had 27 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries a year ago.
“It’s crucial, especially in the red zone,” Amos said of the two red-zone interceptions. “That’s a points swing right there. Once you’re in the red zone you’re guaranteed three – if you make the field goal, you’re guaranteed three – but if you get a takeaway your taking seven or three off the board.”
DeShone Kizer’s group went 2-for-3, with a hot-read catch and run to fullback Danny Vitale, who had fallen down but got up quickly enough to make the reception. Kizer then picked up a bad snap and hit Jawill Davis for a score before undrafted rookie linebacker Curtis Bolton “sacked” Kizer on the third try.
“We had nine cracks at it,” LaFleur said. “I thought it amped up the energy a little bit. It was encouraging. The defense got after the ball, which is what we want to be about, and from an offensive perspective, we’ve got to take better care of it.”
Pass interference review rule comes up
In late March, the NFL’s competition committee decided to let coaches challenge pass interference and non-calls (the final two minutes of each half are still reviewed by the league), and it only took one practice for it to come up for LaFleur.
During red-zone work, LaFleur said there were a couple of “bang-bang” plays along the goal line that the coaches would have to review to see if the offense or defense “won” the down – but on one such play, quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy jokingly shouted for a challenge.
“That’s going to be an interesting dynamic, how we go about that throughout the preseason and into the regular season,” LaFleur acknowledged. “We’ve got to get a feel for how they’re going to officiate some of that stuff.”
Josh Jackson, Mason Crosby miss practice
Mason Crosby and Josh Jackson joined rookie safety Darnell Savage (non-football illness) and rookie linebacker Greg Roberts (physically unable to perform) on the sidelines for the start of training camp Thursday.
Crosby is managing a calf injury suffered during training over the break between the mandatory minicamp and training camp, and Jackson tweaked his right foot a week ago.
Both were placed on the non-football injury list, but LaFleur and the two players said there were no long-term concerns.
“I’m just trying to take my time and just try to make sure I’m fully healthy before I get back out there,” Jackson said. “I’ll be good. I’m still in shape. I’ll be good.”
With Crosby watching, Sam Ficken made 4 of 6 field-goal attempts, missing wide right from 39 and 43 yards.
“Honestly, we’re kind of just like day to day,” Crosby said. “It’s more so just how it feels, how it is kicking. I’m going to be still doing some kicking on my own, just kind of move in that direction. But other than that, it’s just we’ll see how it is day to day and make sure there’s nothing, I don’t aggravate it anymore.”
Rookie running back Dexter Williams was attended to briefly by trainers on the field, and LaFleur classified Williams as falling ill during the session.