Packers coach Matt LaFleur sounds off on audibles; TE Jace Sternberger goes on IR
GREEN BAY – If Matt LaFleur didn’t hear the word “audible” for the rest of this season, that would probably be too soon.
It’s not that the Green Bay Packers head coach was angry Tuesday. And it’s definitely not that LaFleur regrets saying quarterback Aaron Rodgers has the “green light” to change plays at the line of scrimmage, a statement he probably views as obvious as noting that, yes, water is wet.
“That’s all blown out of proportion,” left guard Lane Taylor said. “Like, (Chicago Bears quarterback Mitch) Trubisky has the ability to check plays at the line. It’s not like Aaron is the only one.”
Certainly, though, as questions about the Packers' offense and its pre-snap operation and audibles mounted Tuesday, LaFleur grew exasperated.
“You guys just will not stop with this audible thing,” LaFleur said. “It’s unbelievable. What do you guys want me to say?”
The question isn’t whether LaFleur will allow Rodgers to change a play at the line of scrimmage, or even if he should. It’s how will it work under time restraints?
LaFleur’s version of the West Coast offense is, without question, busier before the snap than the West Coast offense former Packers coach Mike McCarthy ran for 13 seasons. Part of its foundation is pre-snap motions, which dictate certain matchups but also require time to complete. Change a play in that middle of all that activity, with only 25 seconds on the play clock, and it’s not hard to see how an offense might be trying to accomplish too much in too short of a time.
In reality, Taylor said, there’s a simple solution to the complexities of audibles and pre-snap motions, one that will be key to making the Packers offense successful this season.
“You have to get out of the huddle,” Taylor said. “Because some of (our plays) involve a few motions and stuff like that. So you have to have time to do it, or you’re going to kind of screw yourself and run into a bad look.”
LaFleur spent the early part of camp consistently harping on how his team broke the huddle, and for good reason. It’s the key to allowing for enough time to run his offense, while also allowing for the advantage of having a quarterback knowledgeable enough to get the offense out of bad plays.
The Packers offense hasn’t been known for efficiency breaking the huddle in the past. Under McCarthy, Taylor said, the goal was to break the huddle with 18 seconds left on the play clock and have the offense set at 12 seconds. The goal was not consistently met. “It was always an issue,” Taylor said. “We kind of ran the clock down to zero quite a bit.” Taylor said LaFleur doesn’t have a set time to break the huddle, but in order for the offense to operate, it needs to be quicker than the past.
“We’ve got to allow time,” he said, “and we can’t break the huddle at 10 seconds, like we have in the past. There’s no specific time. You’re trying to get out of the huddle as fast as you can. If we don’t get out, they’ll probably yell at us. Then we know we’re going too slow.”
LaFleur said Tuesday he “pretty much talked through every scenario” with Rodgers regarding the audible menu for Thursday night’s opener against the Chicago Bears. So there should be no surprises when Rodgers changes a play at the line of scrimmage. Those decisions — the audibles — are made based on the look a defense shows.
As Taylor explained, it’s practically impossible to get through a game without checking out of a play.
“Aaron is a smart dude,” Taylor said. “LaFleur, he’s calling the play anticipating a defense, but we go out there and the defense he’s anticipating isn’t there and it’s not a good play, it’s not a good play to run into that look. So having someone as smart as him, it’s like, ‘OK, cool. We’re in this formation. We can do this, we can do that. All right, let’s do that. Let’s role.’
“That’s all it really is.”
Jace Sternberger goes to IR with ankle injury
When the Packers decided it was best to place second-year wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown on injured reserve with a high-ankle sprain before the final cuts, ending his season, they entered into this week’s game prep against Chicago just with six wide receivers.
But undrafted rookie Darrius Shepherd injured a hamstring sometime before the club’s first practice on Sunday, and he did not participate in any of the on-field work leading into Thursday’s season opener. It left the team a bit thin at the position, so late Wednesday the club put rookie tight end Jace Sternberger on injured reserve with a high-ankle sprain and reportedly will sign first-year receiver Allen Lazard off the practice squad.
The Athletic first reported the Lazard transaction.
Lazard, who had an impressive training camp, was injured late in the Packers’ third preseason game against Oakland and did not practice or play the final week of the exhibition season. Sternberger injured his left ankle in the final preseason game against Kansas City last Thursday and has been in a walking boot this week.
By making the initial 53-man roster, Sternberger can still play in 2019, but he must remain on injured reserve for eight weeks.
Lazard, who is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and 227 pounds, caught six passes for 114 yards and one score. Head coach Matt LaFleur also raved about his effort and placement on the special teams units.
Taylor shrugs off job competition
Two seasons after signing a 3-year contract extension that presumably had him locked into the starting left guard spot through 2020, Lane Taylor was told before the first preseason game against Houston that he was in a competition for his job with rookie Elgton Jenkins. He would be the only incumbent offensive line starter to play that game on Aug. 8.
Three weeks later, just before the preseason finale against Kansas City on Aug. 29, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur announced Taylor won the job and would rest up for the regular season opener against Chicago.
So, aside from the 21-day battle for not just playing time but potentially even a spot on the team, Taylor is right back to where he, literally, has started from.
“It’s kind of behind me now,” Taylor said. “It’s all part of the league, all part of competition and what not. So I just battled my butt off, put the work and now we’re here and it’s time for the season.”
In their final practice before heading to Chicago, the Packers practiced without Shepherd (hamstring) and Sternberger (ankle). Inside linebacker Oren Burks (pectoral) is expected to miss another four weeks or so.
Sternberger was placed on the injured reserve list later Tuesday.
Rookie corner Ka’Dar Hollman (neck) continued to participate but with a red, no-contact jersey on.
For the Bears, tight end Trey Burton (groin) was said to be a game-time decision.
Deal done, but Goodson not at practice
The Packers traded for New York Giants inside linebacker B.J. Goodson on Monday and the team announced the deal Tuesday afternoon, but Goodson was not seen in the Don Hutson Center and he had not been listed on any of the team’s rosters at that point.
The Packers released linebacker James Crawford on Monday.