Packers defense gets the best of quarterback Aaron Rodgers in third-and-goal drills
GREEN BAY – Give quarterback Aaron Rodgers five opportunities from the 10-yard line and in and chances are he’s going to score touchdowns on a couple of them.
But going 0-for-5?
You’d have to give the Green Bay Packers defense some credit for that.
On the first day of pads Tuesday, the defense picked off Rodgers twice overall and broke up three passes into the end zone during the five-play, third-and-goal drill at the end of practice.
“As a defense, that’s a big win for us,” inside linebacker Oren Burks said. “We’ve got to keep it rolling because we’ve got to keep stacking days. We’re never going to look too far back. We’re just going to keep moving forward and continue to get better.”
Sometimes the defense appears to be ahead of the offense at the start of training camp because it’s playing its scheme and not the scheme the play is designed to beat. So, there can be some confusion and misreads.
But the five plays in the final period were designed to be a competition.
On the first play, from the 10-yard line, Rodgers hit receiver Equanimeous St. Brown short of the goal-line over the middle. On the second play, Rodgers threw incomplete.
Then came the defense’s hammer.
Rodgers escaped the pocket on a play from the 6-yard line and fired the ball across his body toward tight end Robert Tonyan, who appeared to be wide open. But safety Adrian Amos raced across the field and deflected the ball before it reached its target.
On the next play, from the 4-yard line, Rodgers threw a slant to Davante Adams, who was lined up in the slot. It should have been an easy touchdown, but cornerback Chandon Sullivan read it perfectly, broke on the ball and knocked it out of Adams’ arms at the goal line.
Finally, on third-and-goal at the 2, Rodgers looked to hit a comeback to Adams he has hit many times before, but his throw toward the pylon was undercut by cornerback Josh Jackson, who dove and had the ball in his arms but couldn’t hold on for the interception.
“I think Coach (Matt) LaFleur does a great job of adding that competition element to every practice,” Burks said. “So, every drill, every station, every team rep, we know that we’re going after it to continue to get each other better.”
In round one of padded action, the defense prevailed.
On the run
At the same time the defense was flexing its muscles in the situational period at the end of practice, the offense had some pretty impressive runs during some of the other 11-on-11s.
Rookie AJ Dillon had perhaps the best carry, taking the ball to the right and then firing through a hole for what would have been a long gain. Starter Aaron Jones also had a couple of nice cuts in the zone game that would have netted 10 or more yards.
“Everything has been looking crisp to me so far,” Jones said. “This is our second year in our offense, so I think a lot of us feel comfortable, know what’s going on, know the small details.“
LaFleur said he was both pleased and disappointed with the effort.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword, you know, because if the offense is running it well, then we’ve got to do a better job on defense,” he said. “And if we’re not running it very well, the defense is doing a great job. So, I think there was a combination of both good and bad on both sides of the football.”
Left tackle depth
It took three practices for the Packers to see what life might be like without their franchise left tackle.
David Bakhtiari limped to the sideline during red-zone drills near the end of practice, creating a crater on the left side of the offensive line. Bakhtiari, an All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler, stood to the side as practice concluded instead of going inside the Don Hutson Center, perhaps a promising sign.
Coach Matt LaFleur would not provide specifics on Bakhtiari’s injury immediately after practice.
There’s a reason all the attention paid to right tackle this season doesn’t transfer to the left bookend of the line. So long as Bakhtiari is healthy this season, his position should not be an issue. If he’s not? Well, Alex Light rotated into left tackle Tuesday, but that was practice, where quarterbacks can’t be hit.
It’s uncertain whether Light would be Bakhtiari’s replacement in a game, or if the Packers would be inclined to move Billy Turner or Rick Wagner to left tackle. Both are preferred for the right side of the offensive line.
“If I have to go out there and play left tackle in a pinch,” Turner said, “I’m going to go out there and play left tackle to the best of my ability in a pinch.”
The Packers have Turner rotating between right tackle and right guard in camp.
He said it’s not a surprise to be used in both positions entering his second season with the team.
“Honestly, I found out last year when I signed here,” Turner said. “When they signed me, they said there’s a great chance you’re going to be playing multiple positions, and that’s part of the reason we brought you in. I understood that from day one coming in here that there’s an opportunity for me to not only play at right guard, right tackle, but any of those positions on the offensive line, depending on where they see fit and need me to play.”
With center Corey Linsley getting Tuesday’s first padded practice off for what LaFleur described as a “precautionary” reason, it allowed the Packers to flex the versatility that is the strength of their offensive line.
The Packers rotated Elgton Jenkins and Lucas Patrick between center and left guard throughout Tuesday. Their flip-flopping joined the ongoing rotation on the right side between Turner, Rick Wagner and Lane Taylor.
Jenkins, a standout left guard last season, was a center in his final two years at Mississippi State. Some scouts thought he could be a quality NFL center entering the 2019 draft, but with Linsley having the position on lockdown, the Packers moved Jenkins to left guard.
“That’s a great luxury,” LaFleur said. “There’s nothing that I don’t think he can play. He’s played it all in college, and certainly any time you have a guy with that type of versatility, it definitely adds an element to that room and to your roster.”
Patrick signed a two-year extension with the Packers in December and figures to be a top backup. He’s a natural guard, but the Packers have had him take center reps since he signed as an undrafted rookie in 2016. Patrick played more than 100 snaps at center in two games replacing an injured Linsley last season.
“Lucas did a great job every time he was called upon,” LaFleur said. “I think again, he’s another versatile guy. We feel comfortable with him, whether it’s at the center position or either guard spot.”
Adams carted off
It’s uncertain how long Montravius Adams will miss after being carted off the practice field Tuesday, but his absence could put a crimp in the Packers’ plans on their defensive line.
Adams has consistently rotated with the Packers’ starting defensive line in base defense through the camp’s first few days. He’s gotten reps as the third defensive lineman behind Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry, the same position on the depth chart he held last season.
A year ago, it seemed Adams was poised for a breakout third year when he was rotating with the starters in camp. He ended up playing fewer than 200 snaps in 2019. Regardless, LaFleur said Adams has retained the opportunity to compete for a starting job – so long as he’s healthy.
“Mon’s talented,” LaFleur said, “there’s no doubt about it. And I think he works hard and he finishes to the ball. He does a lot of great things. What it’s going to come down to is just playing his responsibility, and doing it consistently.”