GREEN BAY - Through the first five days of training camp, Matt LaFleur has made sure that the Green Bay Packers’ first-string offense goes up against the first-string defense, believing the best players on the team competing against one another benefits all involved
That has trickled down to the individual sessions, from the wide receivers and defensive backs, running backs and linebackers to the offensive and defensive linemen.
“We’re trying to really push each unit to be the best that they can become,” LaFleur said.
A must-watch in the individual one-on-one drills was All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari going against edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, he of the $66 million contract to come in from Baltimore and get after the quarterback.
LaFleur has scripted that individual reps go back-to-back, giving both players a chance to attack one another with different moves immediately as opposed to waiting through an entire cycle of teammates, and Tuesday, Smith got the better of Bakhtiari on both occasions.
LaFleur said after the practice he heard about it and looked forward to seeing the film, whereas Bakhtiari said it was all part of his master practice plan.
“Yeah, I kind of forgot what it felt like to lose, so I kind of wanted to lose two in a row to see how I respond for the rest of practice,” he deadpanned.
And Bakhtiari said that mission was accomplished with a strong remainder of practice.
“It was good. Legs felt good,” Bakhtiari said. “You’re always trying to get better and trying to learn something new, so it was new for me.”
The 6-4, 272-pound Smith makes for a good sparring partner with the 6-4, 310 Bakhtiari, but the offensive lineman looked long over the cameras in front of him when asked if he could recall the last time he was bested in a one-on-one setting.
“No,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to remember.”
It’s been almost a week since camp opened and first-round pick Darnell Savage still hasn’t seen the practice field.
Savage is on the non-football illness list after undergoing dental work just before the start of camp. Savage hasn’t said much about his condition and neither has LaFleur, except to say it’s out of his hands.
“I had hoped to have Savage back yesterday, but it hasn’t happened,” LaFleur said. “I think he’s close. Nothing that we’re really concerned about long-term, but I think when he does come back we’ll kind of climatize him back into the fold.
Savage’s absence has allowed safeties Raven Greene and Natrell Jamerson to log some valuable snaps in the early part of camp. It has given LaFleur a chance to see what he has at the safety position.
“When somebody’s out, it’s a great opportunity for somebody else,” he said. “And those are good reps that those other guys are getting, and I think they’re starting to show some promise.”
LaFleur has mentioned almost every day that he would like to see the tempo increased during practice.
He sounded irritated Tuesday.
Like previous coach Mike McCarthy, LaFleur wants the pace to be quick in and out of the huddle and from drill to drill. Both coaches use the fast pace to keep up conditioning, but LaFleur said he hasn’t gotten what he wants out of his team through the first week.
“Overall, we have to operate with more urgency, just in and out of the huddle,” LaFleur said. “I don’t want to have to condition these guys after practice; I’d rather that practice time be spent for meaningful reps.
“The conditioning should be in practice, hustling from drill to drill, in and out of the huddle and just practicing with a purpose. There’s a lot of room for improvement there.”
Gutekunst offers insight into his evaluations
General manager Brian Gutekunst addressed the media Tuesday and revealed that the wide receiver competition behind Davante Adams is as close as it has looked through the first four days of camp.
“It’s very competitive,” he said. “I think Davante is doing a great job leading that group. It’ll be interesting kind of how it all shakes out but they’re getting a lot of opportunity. It’ll be interesting. There’s no clear ... there’s kind of a big group there that are going to be fighting for a lot of roster spots.”
Gutekunst also acknowledged that the upcoming preseason games, beginning next week against Houston at Lambeau Field, will be important in shaping the backup quarterback situation involving DeShone Kizer, Tim Boyle and rookie Manny Wilkins.
“When they get in those preseason games, their ability to kind of manage the huddle, manage the game and make plays. I mean, they gotta be able to do that,” Gutekunst said. “They’ve got to be able to play winning football when they get out there under the lights. So, the practices will be some ups and downs just because that position is like that ‘cause there’s so much involved. But as we get to the games and stuff, that’s when it matters.”
Such a spotlight also applies to new kicker Sam Ficken, who has kicked exclusively thus far in camp as Mason Crosby is on the non-football injury list with a calf issue. On Tuesday, Ficken went 3-for-4 and is 11-for-14 thus far. But Gutekunst said the heat will be turned up a bit with the family night scrimmage and games looming.
“Sam’s shown up and worked hard and he does have a very strong leg,” Gutekunst said. “He’ll have some opportunities coming up here where we get a little bit more pressure. That’s important. That’s really important for kickers, is to be able to handle the pressure. Obviously, Mason has done that for a number of years and he also knows how to kick in this stadium, which is different than other places. I’m interested to see as we get to those steps to see how he does.”
Josh Jones off to strong start
Safety Josh Jones, who sat out the voluntary offseason workouts and reportedly expressed a desire to be traded, has been active in training camp and got some snaps with the No. 1 defense.
“I think Josh has had a really good beginning to camp. In four days he’s shown up and made some plays," Gutekunst said. "Obviously, the physical gifts are all there and he’s getting a lot of opportunities, and I think there are some really positive signs that he can really help our football team. We’ve got a long way to go and a lot of competition in that back end right now but yeah, it’s been really positive to see him out there doing what he’s doing.”