Packers eager to see Jordan Love in game situations as starting QB in preseason opener against Texans

Ryan Wood
Packers News

GREEN BAY - Jordan Love’s turbulent, sometimes spectacular practice Saturday was a microcosm of how his second camp with the Green Bay Packers has gone overall. 

Ball security was coach Matt LaFleur’s message to Love after he lost the football three times in the team’s Family Night practice inside a rain-soaked Lambeau Field. Two of Love’s fumbles were on botched snaps with undrafted rookie center Jacob Capra, with whom Love has worked minimally in camp. The third, and most technically alarming, came when Love held onto the football with just one hand as he stepped up in the pocket. The football smacked off Love’s thigh pad, onto the ground. 

The young quarterback showed his arm talent, especially on a deep throw into double coverage to receiver Reggie Begelton. Love fit his pass over a pair of defensive backs who were closely trailing Begelton, but Begelton could not hold on for the reception. 

“I don’t know how that ball got through,” LaFleur said, “but it was a great pass to Reggie and one that I think Reggie would like to have back. So there was a lot of good.” 

Packers quarterback Jordan Love throws a pass during training camp at Ray Nitschke Field on Aug. 3.

For Love, the next step is to take his game into a live-snapping setting in preseason. LaFleur confirmed Tuesday that Love will start the preseason opener Saturday against Houston at Lambeau Field. LaFleur said Aaron Rodgers is unlikely to appear in any of the three preseason games, so Love will get plenty of playing time. 

LaFleur wants to see how Love handles game situations. 

“More than anything else,” LaFleur said, “the one thing that we’ll make sure to keep pressing on to him is just the tempo in and out of the huddle. There were a couple times he may have gotten a bad play call in there in terms of how we set the formations, and he’s got to be able to figure that out and get everybody lined up so we can go out there and execute.” 

Preston Smith poised for ‘heck of a year’

Outside linebackers coach Mike Smith pushed back on the idea fewer pass-rush opportunities led to Preston Smith’s diminished production in 2020. 

Preston Smith took a $4 million pay cut this offseason after his sack total dropped to four in 2020, down from 12 the previous season. He said his role was a big reason for the decline, citing fewer pass-rush attempts and more coverage drops. 

“I get it,” Mike Smith said, “(edge rushers) are way better at going forward. I’ve been in a 3-4 for 20 years. The year (2014) that Justin Houston got 22 sacks, half a sack away (from Michael Strahan's single-season record in 2001), he dropped 150 times."

Mike Smith, who coached Houston for three years with the Kansas City Chiefs, said Preston Smith is a “team player” and doesn’t doubt the veteran is willing to do whatever is needed. He also knows the Packers need their edge rusher to have more impact harassing quarterbacks this fall. 

As a player, Mike Smith spent his career in a 3-4 defense with the Baltimore Ravens. He has coached predominately in a 3-4 defense, starting in 2010 as a New York Jets intern under former Packers coordinator and good friend Mike Pettine. He said a benefit of the 3-4 defense is keeping offenses guessing which outside linebackers are rushing and which are dropping in coverage. 

Mike Smith said it’s important for Preston Smith to not think about his role, but simply go out and play. 

“Once you start putting negativity in your mind or heart,” Mike Smith said, “that’s usually a sign you’re done. It happens a lot with young guys. … Same thing with dropping. If you start complaining about it, don’t want to do it, whatever it may be — that’s just human nature. So you’ve just got to get back. Preston is not complaining about it, but I guarantee you he loves going forward more than backward. So you’ve just got to let that stuff go, and do your job. The rest takes care of itself.” 

Instead of complaining, Mike Smith said his veteran trained hard this offseason. Preston Smith reported to camp in better shape than a year ago, his coach said. 

Mike Smith expects Preston Smith to have “a heck of a year” in 2021. 

“I thought he looked good,” Mike Smith said. “I could tell he had a good summer. He hit it hard. He’s looking a little bit leaner, and he’s looking stronger. His arms got a little definition to them. That’s another thing about playing, how much we do, dropping in space. You’ve got to be able to move, change direction and all that stuff.  

“He looks like he did the first year when he got here.” 

Braden taking his shot

For a couple years, Packers guard Ben Braden questioned whether he should continue his football career. 

He’d been a two-year starter at Michigan, even sliding out to left tackle. But Braden went undrafted in 2017. He was on the New York Jets' practice squad that season. He played three games with the Jets in the past two seasons, then four games with the Packers last season. 

“It was definitely tough,” Braden said. “I’d say in the last couple years, there was some moments where I was kind of, I was very proud of what I’d done at that point. At the same time, I have a wife and son, and I have a family. So I was kind of like, ‘At what point is this too much on all of us, and I need to make a decision on what’s best for our family?’” 

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Braden said he had a conversation with his wife, Andrea. They checked their finances before deciding they could continue the gamble. 

“At the end of the day,” Braden said, “I love football. … In my heart, I just felt like I wasn’t done yet.” 

In his second camp with the Packers, Braden is seeing his long path start to pay off. With Elgton Jenkins sliding out to left tackle to replace the injured David Bakhtiari, Braden isn’t only making a run at a 53-man roster spot. He’s competing for a starting left guard spot with fellow former Michigan lineman Jon Runyan Jr. 

Coach Matt LaFleur said Braden has earned the opportunity. 

“He’s a massive guy,” LaFleur said of the 6-6, 329-pound Braden, “that has really good athleticism for his size. He’s got good ownership of what we're asking these guys to do, and he’s done a nice job.” 

Mr. Longevity

Mason Crosby enters his 15th season as the Packers' kicker in 2021, a benchmark of longevity for kickers. 

“It was kind of a goal to get to a point like this,” Crosby said. 

Crosby will turn 37 in September. The Packers drafted him in the sixth round in 2007. He won the job as a rookie and never looked back, becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. 

At this stage, Crosby knows he’ll face plenty of questions on how much longer he plans to continue his kicking. He said there are no plans to retire anytime soon as long as he continues at a high level. Crosby made all 16 of his field goals last season, the first time in his career he’d finished 100 percent. That followed a 2019 in which he made 22-of-24, a 91.7 percentage that had been the best in his career. 

Crosby was asked Monday about the possibility of playing as long as the legendary Adam Vinatieri, who retired this offseason at age 48. 

“Yeah, you know, 48 would be pretty cool,” Crosby said. “It seems like that’s just a whole other career to think that far out. To me, I want to play out this contract and just kind of evaluate it.”