Packers notes: Matt LaFleur finds common ground with Aaron Rodgers on joint practices
GREEN BAY - Matt LaFleur, like any NFL coach, understands veteran players aren’t the biggest fans of training camp.
So Aaron Rodgers’ suggestion the Packers don’t hold another joint practice for, oh, another 14 years was not surprising to his first-year head coach who not only scheduled the practice but would like to schedule more.
The thing is, LaFleur said, Rodgers isn’t the player these joint practices are designed to help. It’s the younger player fighting to make a roster, or competing for a starting job, who benefits.
“From his perspective,” LaFleur said, “hey, I can understand where he’s coming from in some regard, because it’s not like they’re playing, you know. They run about four different coverages, so it’s not overly complicated. It’s not like (defensive coordinator Mike) Pettine throwing everything at you. So I get it from his perspective.
“At the same time,” he said, "there’s 10 other guys on the field with him on each play, and it was great for us, especially when you talk about our run game getting some different looks to go against. So I thought, I always respect his opinion just like I do all our players. But I do still think it was beneficial for us.”
So, yes, joint practices will continue being an emphasis in future years with LaFleur.
The new head coach did agree, however, on one suggestion from his quarterback, who was not pleased to see live special teams drills. Receiver Trevor Davis was injured in that drill Monday. LaFleur said Rodgers was “dead right” with his assessment.
“They ramped up their intensity level,” LaFleur said of the Texans, “and we didn’t match it, and it looked a little like we got it taken to us a little bit. And that’s something that, moving forward, that I probably wouldn’t do again, is those full-cover kickoff drills.”
LaFleur coached from the sideline Thursday night despite his left foot still being protected in a walking boot. He did, however, get some assistance.
LaFleur put Joe McKillip, the Packers’ assistant chief of staff, in charge of throwing the red challenge flag. That enabled someone with full mobility to get the referee’s attention, in case that was necessary. On LaFleur’s orders, McKillip tossed the red flag to challenge that there was a passing interference in the second half.
“I could have easily thrown it in that particular situation,” LaFleur said, “but I gave it to Joe pregame because those officials needed to know prior to the game who was going to be holding the challenge flag.”
LaFleur lost the challenge, but he gained important intel.
The ability for coaches to challenge pass interference penalties is new to the NFL this year, the byproduct of a reflexive change following a blown call in last season’s NFC Championship game against the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams.
On Thursday, quarterback Tim Boyle’s pass sailed past receiver Allen Lazard, who was closely covered Johnson Bademosi. It was a bang-bang play, and the officials let the call on the field of no penalty stand.
LaFleur said that helped him better gauge whether to challenge a future pass interference.
“I think it’s got to be clear and obvious, you know,” LaFleur said. “And if it’s not, it’s not going to get overturned.”
The two days of practice the Packers had with the Texans gave rookie cornerback Ka’Dar Hollman a pretty good idea what route Vyncint Smith was running on a second-and-10 play in the first quarter.
Hollman ran up the seam with Smith, trailing just a little bit.
“We knew that was one of the things they like to do,” Hollman said. “Once I saw him run the route, that’s when I undercut it.”
The Packers’ sixth-round pick ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at his pro day, so it took him no time to get between quarterback Joe Webb and Smith. He caught the ball in front of Smith and took off the other way, returning his first NFL interception 11 yards.
“I just drove on it,” Hollman said. "I trusted my instincts and then knew where the quarterback was going to throw the ball. As I was breaking on it, my eyes immediately went from the receiver to the QB because I’m planning on undercutting it the whole time.
"As I was going, I saw the ball coming out of his hand.”
With Jaire Alexander, Tramon Williams and Kevin King sitting out, Hollman started the game and played a considerable amount of snaps. He finished with two tackles in addition to his interception.
Off and running
LaFleur had been critical of rookie running back Dexter Williams’ decision-making in the run game, feeling he was not making the hard cuts that are necessary for the wide-zone scheme to work.
Gradually, though, Williams, a sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame, has become more comfortable with the reads and it showed against the Texans. Williams carried 14 times for 62 yards (4.4-yard average), hitting a groove after gaining just 20 yards on his first six carries.
“The first couple of plays it was like the game was moving a little fast, but once I was able to relax and just get a rhythm, I was able to like really slow the game down,” Williams said. “Everything started to feel like football. Once the game slowed down I was able to relax and get in a good rhythm.
“I still have a lot of things to work on, just running, blocking, passing, getting in the film room and watching and correcting those mistakes and moving on.”
Williams added an 18-yard catch on a screen pass, giving him a team-high 80 yards from scrimmage.