Packers defensive backs use push-ups to police their performance
GREEN BAY - Matt LaFleur fired up the tape and tested his players' boldness.
“I said ‘hey, we're gonna find out about our integrity right here," said the Green Bay Packers coach, referring to a question he asked cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles. "'Did you catch that?’ He said yes. I said ‘well, got a bunch of liars.’”
It had been a point of contention, disagreement and even laughs all weekend. Did Jean-Charles intercept Aaron Rodgers in the end zone toward the end of Saturday’s training camp practice? During the live play, it seemed Jean-Charles had pulled the ball down cleanly against Randall Cobb.
Officials on hand waved off the pick, saying Jean-Charles had bobbled the ball and not regained possession before stepping out of bounds. Rodgers was given another play and scored the touchdown with a pass to Allen Lazard.
On Monday, Jean-Charles couldn’t help but laugh as all around him, teammates stuck up for the second-year defensive back.
“I’m gonna keep saying that's a pick. I don't care. I'm gonna ride with my DB. So he could’ve been 2 feet out of bounds for all I know. I’m going with a pick,” cornerback Eric Stokes said.
When asked what he himself thought, Jean-Charles gave a smirk, then a pout and replied, “I don’t wanna talk about it.”
But the defensive backs were on their way to the meeting room and Jean-Charles, Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage (who dropped interceptions Monday) were all about to not only “talk about it,” but pay for it as well.
The Green Bay Packers defensive backs have a rule: If you drop a pick, there will be push-ups. That in and of itself is not rare for secondary rooms. But the Packers have taken it a step farther. For any potential pick missed in individual drills, 10 push-ups are owed. Any dropped in the red zone cost 20 push-ups.
“I got 10 for dropping one during Indy, so I already know for a fact I’ve gotta go hit my 10,” Stokes said.
“If it’s in the red zone it should be 50 but we decided on 20,” said corner Rasul Douglas.
And those steadfast rules can be changed by community. Any play that is questionable, such as Amos’ dropped interception over the middle against Lazard, will go to a vote. The defensive backs will decide if there was a clear and present opportunity for an interception and if so, was the grievance bad enough to warrant more than the typical punishment.
“We gotta review Savage's PBU (pass break-up) today, see if that was a pick,” Douglas said. “He got one (hand) but we gotta look at it. We all go in there. We’ll critique. Most likely we want him to say he dropped it. If you get one hand on it, you should be able to catch it. We’ll go over it. Whoever gets the most ‘I say-so,’ he’ll have pushups or he won’t … Smash (Amos) got 20 today.”
Why is Amos relegated to more?
“That was an actual drill, 2-minute, like this game’s on the line. We could’ve stopped them from scoring completely and you actually had the ball. And he’s gonna try to make up an excuse but we ain’t going for it,” Stokes said.
Jean-Charles' almost-pick on Saturday during the two-minute drill would’ve ended the game as well.
“We made him do 10 because he caught it but his foot, he didn’t get his foot in so we said that was a missed opportunity to get a pick so we made him do push-ups,” Douglas said.
This secondary was sixth in the NFL in 2021 with 18 interceptions, led by Douglas with five picks (two returned for touchdowns). The defense overall was third in the league with a turnover differential of +13. If they’re going to not only match that production, but exceed it, then any drops must be eliminated and pass break-ups must become the minimum. They’re looking for ballhawks.
“It’s just something that like, we all hold each other accountable. We’re watching film and everything so every drop, we see it,” Stokes said.
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These defensive plays count on the stat sheet as a pass break-up and at the least stall a drive. But the defense knows, they’re lost moments. They’re game clinchers. And if this secondary is going to be as stout as the national narrative is crowning them before a game is even played, then they must take advantage of those opportunities.
“We gotta go out there, we got to prove it to ourselves day in and day out that we are the best defense, we are the best secondary,” Stokes said. “If it's not up to our standards, we got high standards in our room, so flat out we're like, if it's not met, it don’t matter who you is, what you is, anything, we have standards so we have to match it.”
This extends beyond turnovers and to plays that can be stacked as well. On Monday, during a two-minute drill, Lazard caught a pass from Rodgers near the sideline and with no timeouts, made sure to step out of bounds quickly. Stokes knows he made the mental mistake to let it happen.
“I knew they had no timeouts, they needed anything to get out of bounds and I was playing too soft, I gave up a quick out that allowed him to go out of bounds and stop the clock. So it was just me not looking at the clock, not knowing that little stuff, just sparked back into it like ‘dang man, come on you’ve gotta know this stuff.’"
August is when these mistakes can be made. The kinks are worked out, the reps stacked and the battle scars won to create a player ready for the moment come game time. With each push-up at the front of the meeting room, the Packers defensive backs remind themselves they have the potential, the depth and the expectation to be special. Now it’s time to earn it.
“Special. We can be special. We all compete at a high level. I think we're all good as hell,” said Douglas of the cornerback unit.
Then of the defense as a whole: “We just know what we’re capable of and feel like we have the pieces to do it.”