Packers' Tavon Austin in line for more playing time; Aaron Jones changes agents
GREEN BAY - Tavon Austin had a pair of catches for 8 yards in his Green Bay Packers debut. That both came in the first quarter, on the team's first extended drive after a quick touchdown, was no coincidence.
As he balanced the new receiver's workload, coach Matt LaFleur said it was easiest to write Austin into the opening script. That way, Austin could use his first full week of practice learning the plays that would be called for him Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Austin, who had only four snaps in Detroit, saw his playing time vanish as the game went on.
LaFleur said that's likely to change in coming weeks.
"It was probably a little bit easier," LaFleur said, "to incorporate him early when you're going through your script and things. As kind of the flow of the game went, I don't think he played quite as much. I've got to do a better job of getting him in there, and I thought that he came in, in pretty decent shape. It was nice to get him a taste of the action."
Austin's most immediate impact early is expected to be on special teams. To that end, he was sent deep to field each of the Lions' three punts. Austin, who has not fielded a kickoff since 2017 when he was with the Los Angeles Rams, has been predominately a punt returner throughout his career.
The Packers used Jamaal Williams as kick returner, but LaFleur did not close the door on Austin fielding some kickoffs while primary return specialist Tyler Ervin remains on injured reserve.
"I think we're always looking at the possibilities in terms of kickoff return," LaFleur said. "It could change by game plan who we're going to put back there, but certainly (Tavon is) a guy that we have a lot of confidence in."
It's uncertain how large Austin's role will grow with the Packers during the season's final three regular-season games and playoffs. LaFleur cautioned it could ebb and flow depending on the week, but said the veteran ingratiated himself with his new team when he wasn't on the field.
On the sideline, LaFleur said, there wasn't a more involved or supportive teammate.
"What you love about Tavon," LaFleur said, "is just the energy he brings to our football team. He's been here only — it's going on three weeks now — there's not a guy that was louder on our sidelines just cheering on his teammates. I think that's — to see a guy come in, on such short notice, and just bring that energy, bring that juice that we're so looking for from everybody.
"I think it uplifts everyone, and he's been definitely a welcome addition to our football team."
Aaron Jones' new agent
Running back Aaron Jones has changed agents, firing Leigh Steinberg and Chris Cabott and hiring Drew Rosenhaus.
Jones and his twin brother, Alvin, appeared Monday evening in a photo on Twitter with Rosenhaus and his brother, Jason, announcing the new partnership.
A source said Jones filed the paperwork to fire his previous agents with the NFL Players Association on Dec. 8. ESPN first reported the news he was changing agents Sunday.
The five-day waiting period between firing an agent and hiring a new one ended Monday.
Several prominent agents said they were in the process of bidding to represent Jones, who will become a free agent after the season. However, Rosenhaus, who has one of the largest client lists in the agent community, apparently struck a deal quickly.
Rosenhaus isn’t a favorite among many agents, but he is known for getting deals done. Negotiations between Jones and the Packers stalled and the fact he decided to switch representatives now would indicate he is still interested in signing an extension.
It’s not uncommon for players to fire their agents when their contract demands aren’t met or there is a difference in opinion of how much the player is worth.
The Packers are in no hurry to sign Jones. They have until March before he becomes a free agent and even if he were to enter the market they would still have a chance to re-sign him.
When Mason Crosby nailed his 57-yard field goal, the high point for the Packers' beleaguered special teams, it should have been enough to seal a comfortable win. Crosby's kick gave the Packers a 10-point lead with 3:30 left.
Instead, in a continuation of shoddy special teams play that has become the Packers' most alarming weakness, the Lions returned the ensuing kickoff 71 yards. Crosby needed to make a tackle to avoid a kickoff return for touchdown, which would have been the Packers' third return touchdown allowed in three weeks. Even still, the long return gave the Lions possession 33 yards from the end zone.
The Packers' defense forced Detroit to settle for Matt Prater's 32-yard field goal and Green Bay prevailed 31-24. They surely know a better opponent, such as they'll see in the postseason, might have punched the gift of a return into the end zone.
That would have made things much more interesting.
"Certainly, I thought obviously the glaring mistake was the long return," LaFleur said.
Otherwise, LaFleur thought the Packers' special teams were improved Sunday. He pointed to not only Crosby's 57-yard field goal and his perfect day on extra points, but also holding the Lions to 24 yards on their other kickoff return.
"I know it's not good enough when you give up a big explosive, and we've got to get better in that regard," LaFleur said, "but I thought for the most part it was pretty solid. Now on that one return, we had guys aborting to the wrong side of the return. We got pinned inside by the double team. So we've got to do a better job on that."
To accommodate a rare Saturday night game, LaFleur has adjusted the practice plan without changing the schedule.
Players are off Tuesday as is usually the case, but with one less day to prepare will cram their usual Wednesday and Thursday practices into one Wednesday session. Thursday will be like a Friday and Friday will be like the usual walk-through they do on Saturday.
LaFleur said he is doing it this way so that his coaches have Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the Carolina Panthers and the players have sufficient time to rest their bodies.
“You get to this point of the season, I think it's absolutely imperative that our players are fresh and ready to go,” LaFleur said. “When you're limited on a short week, I want to make sure we have a great game plan in place and also the guys understand and take care of their bodies.”
No. 2 and rising
The Packers maintained their No. 1 ranking in points per game (31.5) and moved into second place in offensive yards per game (397.6) after their 31-point, 410-yard performance against the Lions.
The Packers also rose from fourth to second in third-down conversions (49.67%) and rank No. 1 in red-zone touchdown proficiency (77.08%). They lead the league in average time of possession at 33 minutes, 2 seconds.
The defense ranks eighth in yards allowed per game (335.7) and tied for 16th in points (24.8).