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Packers finding time for fun during virtual offseason install sessions

Ryan Wood
Packers News
Packers coach Matt LaFleur is dealing with an array of uncertainties as he prepares for his second season in Green Bay.

GREEN BAY - When Matt LaFleur envisioned what his second offseason as the Green Bay Packers head coach might look like, he couldn’t have imagined so many uncertainties.

Now is the time a young head coach is supposed to begin working off a foundation of known factors. His team has played one season, 18 games in all, a sample size LaFleur would like to grow into an even better 2020.

This offseason should be easier than last.

Instead, the coronavirus pandemic has made things far from predictable in the NFL, not only for the Packers but all 32 teams. The league unveiled its 2020 schedule this month, indicating it intends to play this fall, but it can’t possibly assure that will happen. Nor can teams know when they will be able to conduct business as usual on the field, even as some team facilities around the league began opening Tuesday.

The Packers were not among the facilities to open Tuesday when the league began allowing team personnel back into their buildings. To ensure fairness, the NFL is not permitting coaches to be in team facilities, meaning all offseason work must be conducted virtually.

LaFleur, like his counterparts across the league, has needed to get creative in keeping players sharp.

“We’re really going slow through the process,” LaFleur said, “because we don’t have some of these (individual player workouts) and OTAs where you’re putting in an install per day. The virtual stuff has been at a slower pace. I think it really helps everybody because there’s a lot of emphasis on the details. For a second-year offense now, for the coaches to be able to go back through during their offseason and really take a deep dive into the film and the scheme and the playbook, I think has really been helpful.

“They’ve been really creative with the installs, using some humor in some videos to make the viewing sessions a little more interesting. I think we’ve all appreciated that.”

The Packers, like many corporations, have relied on technology to stay connected. LaFleur said there were “close to 100 people” on the team’s initial Zoom call of the offseason, including players, coaches and support staff. The call, he said, lasted only 10 to 12 minutes and focused on highlight expectations for the virtual offseason.

Players have also heard from coaches in pre-recorded lessons on their iPads.

“The most fun,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “has been to see the coach’s personalities come out in some of these installs. Because Matt has given different coaches different responsibilities, and some of them are kind of straight down the line, and then you got a guy like (offensive line coach) Adam Stenavich, who brings some really funny slides and humor and video to his presentations. (Offensive coordinator) Nate Hackett is a wild man. He’s so much fun.

“I laugh with him about a young rookie watching these meetings, watching Nate and his personality and wondering who the hell this guy is, and then there’s breakout meetings within our position groups that we’ve been doing as well, and then Matt and Nate and I have been meeting regularly also.”

Rodgers, residing at his offseason home in California, said he has found a couple workout partners to throw to, keeping his arm in shape. His throwing routine isn’t much different than a typical May, he said.

Eventually, Rodgers suggested, he might try to connect with some of his receivers for in-person throwing sessions once travel restrictions are lifted.

“The biggest change,” Rodgers said, “has been, you know, feeling like a kid throwing the football at the park. You have to find different places to get some of these workouts in. So there’s been places like that, to get our running in, our agility in with our group, and then finding places to throw the ball. We’ve got a couple good places now to throw it.”

It was one year ago this week when the Packers entered the organized team activities phase of their offseason. In a typical NFL calendar, minicamp would be just a few weeks away, with the spring building up to training camp in late July.

LaFleur doesn’t know if this spring is building to the same target. Until something changes, he said the Packers will focus on making the most out of their virtual training.

“That’s one of those deals,” he said, “that we’re constantly communicating as a staff in terms of how to approach whatever phase is next. Our mindset has been more or less we’re going to keep operating in this virtual phase until told otherwise. Will we have a plan if things change? Absolutely. But it’s going to be more or less those plans will come together once we get clear direction.”