What will the Packers look like when they return to the field?
The Green Bay Packers began to reopen parts of Lambeau Field on Tuesday, and two days later the National Football League issued a memorandum to teams outlining the next phase of increasing football activity inside facilities, beginning Monday.
Coaches will be among the employees allowed to go back to their offices, and if the league can come to an accord with the NFL Players Association on the return of players, there is hope some part of the offseason program can be salvaged. In a conference call last week, commissioner Roger Goodell said the league will extend the virtual offseason by “at least” two more weeks, pushing the window to the end of June.
Whether only a handful of players can return, or the entire squad can, what might the Packers look like once they step out onto the turf of the Don Hutson Center or Ray Nitschke Field?
Coach Matt LaFleur expects his team to be ready physically and mentally.
“Now like a lot of these teams out there, we’re not monitoring the physical workouts; the things that our guys are getting credit for right now is the classroom stuff,” LaFleur said. “All of our meetings, being in there, being on time, attending those, that’s what they’re getting credit for, so there is an onus on the player in terms of being a professional.”
That said, the coaches and strength staff have put together a plan to make sure they don’t push the players too hard, too quickly. Because while the assumption is players will head back to Lambeau Field in shape, there’s an element of the unknown what that shape actually is.
“It’s kind of one of those things that you don’t know what you don’t know so I mean, some people might think that they’re looking great, but there is no one more honest with you than another grown man who’s your friend and you just give s--- to each other,” tight end Jace Sternberger said. “So if some dude’s fat and he doesn’t think he’s fat, know what I’m saying, someone’s going to notice it. I’m just so worried about myself right now — I don’t want to be that guy. So I’m doing everything so they can’t say anything to me when I get back. I think it’ll be different. Not just for us, but for every team in the league. Who knows what these players are going to look like.”
On the mental level, the players have talked about the process by which the Packers coaches are teaching play installations and said they have been effective. The biggest challenge may be for players who learn better on the field and getting the hands-on instruction.
“I kind of feel like it’ll hit the ground running,” running back Aaron Jones said. “It’s not a new offense for us. Last year was a new offense, so going out there kind of going like, ‘OK, what am I doing?’ Kind of not playing as comfortable. So now you’ve had all this time, you’ve been able to take a deep dive, so the only thing that you can’t get from being there is the repetition or the coach showing you the exact way. I mean, you can see it on film, but people learn differently. People can learn from film or they can learn hands on right there.”
But even with the base of the offense (or defense) set from a year ago for most of the team, things might still look a bit … off when the pieces start moving.
“I think that’s what makes football so beautiful — you can’t really train or practice football without having 22 guys on the field,” wide receiver Allen Lazard said. “Basketball, you can go to the gym and work on your shot, you can dribble, you can do a bunch of other stuff. But I can’t even go out and practice being a receiver without a quarterback. I 100% agree that it’s going to be a huge adjustment and there’s going to be probably a downfall in play for at least the few months of people just trying to one, get back in shape and two, just kind of developing those skills again. It’s very hard to practice them when you can’t.
“For me, it’s feeling a DB on me, just being able to run and have that comfortability. Getting pressed again. I haven’t gotten jammed. I need to feel that to practice, to work on it. It’s going to be a big adjustment. But I’m excited for it.”