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Matt LaFleur on Packers' offense vs. defense in camp: 'Both sides have had their days'

Tom Silverstein
Packers News

GREEN BAY - The scrimmage-like practice Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur ran his team through inside Lambeau Field on Sunday was nothing like a fourth preseason game.

Traditionally, the final game before the regular season starts is reserved for young players, those fighting for backup positions and those battling for a job. The starters usually don’t play, and their minds are already on the season opener.

But after indicating Saturday that this would be an opportunity for the young players, LaFleur used the 2-hour, 15-minute practice more to get the coaches and starters ready for the Sept. 13 opener against the Minnesota Vikings than anything else.

There were roughly 100 plays from scrimmage and LaFleur said the starting units got 51 of them.

“Matter of fact, we wanted to do a 2-minute drive there at the end, but we just unfortunately had a couple of guys get nicked up and had to go out and it wasn’t worth it at that point for me,” LaFleur said. “That’s kind of like what we were shooting for, and I think the guys got good work in.

“They’ve got to realize that two weeks from today we’re going to be playing our first game. So, they’ve got to stack consistent practices on top of each other.”

A typical practice has 13-15 periods; this one had 29.

After doing the usual fundamentals drills at the start of practice, the offense and defense went head-to-head 17 times with some special teams work scattered in-between. Of those 17 series – a handful of which lasted only three or four plays – eight belonged to Aaron Rodgers, four to backup Tim Boyle and five to rookie Jordan Love.

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur is shown Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, during the team's first practice at training camp in Green Bay, Wis.

The results were mixed on both sides, which is probably what LaFleur wanted. If his offense was dominating, he’d be concerned his defense wasn’t playing well. And vice versa.

Rodgers played a controlled game and there weren’t a lot of big-gainers. Running back Aaron Jones might have popped a few long runs, but since there is no tackling, it’s hard to say how far he would have gotten.

A perfect example of the plus-or-minus assessment was a pretty 23-yard touchdown connection Rodgers had with receiver Allen Lazard on a third-and-8 play. Great throw, great catch, but the reality was linebacker Za’Darius Smith had to pull up while running unimpeded up the middle. Under normal circumstances he would have knocked the stuffing out of Rodgers.

Touchdown or sack?

Those are things LaFleur will get answers to in 13 days.

“I think both sides have had their days and until I go back and look at the tape, it’s really tough to tell right now,” LaFleur said of plays like that. “But, you know, it’s kind of been, both offensively and defensively, it’s kind of been back and forth.”

General manager Brian Gutekunst has until 3 p.m. CDT Saturday to pare the roster down to 53 players. LaFleur would love to spend all of the next two weeks working on things the team might see from the Vikings, but he has to keep working second- and third-teamers this week so Gutekunst has enough information to make the right decisions.

“It’s always a balancing act there in terms of things we may try to do in the opener or later on down the season and what exactly do we need to get looks at to get better at, things that we want to improve upon,” LaFleur said. “I would say it (the practice) was a combination of both of those thoughts.”

Backup quarterback Boyle had more shining moments than Rodgers. He continued his red-hot summer with a number of excellent decisions and accurate throws. He had completions of 20, 20 and 45 yards, including a third-down touchdown strike down the seam to receiver Darrius Shepherd.

Rodgers had some frustrating moments, such as a fourth-down play in which he tripped running back Jamaal Williams, who fell short of the first down, and a fumbled snap that ended a series after two plays.

His best showing was an outstanding 2-minute drill in which he completed 6 of 8 passes to drive the team 50 yards for a game-winning, 38-yard field goal.

“From an offensive perspective, it sure seemed like the operation was smooth,” LaFleur said. “I thought we were able to move the ball, didn't get a lot of chunk plays, which is great from a defensive perspective.

“Defensively, I thought our pass rush showed up. I think there were a couple plays in there that definitely could have been ruled a sack if we’d have been going live. I think there was good on both sides of the ball.”

LaFleur had his coaches work out of the press box, with officials on the field for the first time and the players dressed in game-day uniforms. There were some things that needed ironing out, such as the walkie-talkie system used to call in plays, which malfunctioned when LaFleur handed play-calling over to offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett for a portion of practice.

There was plenty of substituting to help prepare for the typical game-day sideline operation, timeouts were called when the play-clock wound down and ambient crowd noise played for almost the entire practice.

To test the players’ ability to think and play fast, there were no play scripts as there normally would be in a training camp practice. Usually, the players have performed walk-throughs of what they’re going to practice and know what play or scheme is going to be run before they line up.

In this practice, the calls were made fresh from the sideline. The down and distances were not prescribed and certain players moved in and out of the lineup as they would in any regular-season game.

“I think for the most part they did everything they could to make it as close to a preseason game as possible,” nose tackle Tyler Lancaster said. “Going out there, we didn’t know anything. They called it in through the headsets and we were playing ball.

“So they even injected some noise into the stadium, and that was kind of cool – sort of simulate that environment. But to me, it really did feel like a game today. And I feel like this is the best way we’re going to get prepared. ”

Sunday was the official end of training camp. Practices this week will include some prescribed looks for the offense and defense – as preparation for the Vikings – and some competitive series to help further assess talent.

Then comes Week 1, ready or not.