Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur considering easing practice workload to prevent injuries

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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GREEN BAY – Since the day his team first stepped onto the practice field, there is nothing Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur has given more consideration than how hard his players push their bodies.

He is always calculating. Always careful. Crunching the GPS data that reveals how much energy players expend in practice. Making tweaks when necessary.

LaFleur almost never scheduled high-intensity practices three days in a row since his first season in 2019. They took their work into the classroom, preserving their joints. It’s an exercise in prioritizing the long haul of an NFL season, enabling players to ease into September.

When the Packers opened training camp this summer, that slowly began to change. LaFleur had his team on the field for 23 practices in camp, five more than last season. One of them was a full-practice scrimmage late in camp, a rigorous, revolutionary attempt to harden his players for the first few weeks.

The aggressive approach might have helped the Packers win a big Week 3 road game at Tampa, where 90-degree temperatures were daunting for a team adjusting from Wisconsin’s cooler, early fall. The Packers never wilted under the Florida heat and humidity. Their bodies were fresh for four quarters, allowing them to make a final stand to prevent a potential game-tying 2-point conversion that sealed a 14-12 win.

It might have also presented some drawbacks. A day after returning from Tampa, LaFleur said he asked his training staff to compare how hard he’s pushed players this season compared to his first three years. He said the study was prompted after veteran receiver Sammy Watkins injured his hamstring in practice last week, placing him on injured reserve.

Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur oversees stretching during Family Night in August.

“I feel awful about that,” LaFleur said. “Because I feel like we probably pushed our guys a little too hard in that regard, just coming off a physical game, a night game. He’s done everything in his power to be in great shape, and he is in great shape.”

LaFleur didn’t only have his players on the field for more practice days in camp. Entering Week 1, defensive lineman Kenny Clark said the Packers prioritized conditioning this summer. He’s never run more in his seven NFL seasons than this camp, Clark said.

Once the season began, LaFleur moved his team’s padded practice up a day during game weeks. The Packers, like many NFL teams, used to practice in pads on Thursdays. Now the team straps them up on Wednesdays.

That’s how the Packers prepared for the Buccaneers last week. After a Sunday night game against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field, LaFleur scheduled his padded practice for Wednesday. In that practice, Watkins and rookie receiver Christian Watson left with hamstring injuries. Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis also dropped out of practice with a groin injury, though he played 22 snaps against Tampa Bay.

Cornerback Jaire Alexander exited Sunday’s game with a groin injury on the opening drive. At his locker after the game, Alexander said he felt his groin grab covering the game’s first stop route. That would have been the first snap of the afternoon. He didn’t leave the game until allowing an 8-yard completion to Buccaneers tight end Kyle Rudolph on the game’s seventh play.

Alexander had little burst to prevent Rudolph from getting open when he broke his route to the sideline on the play. He kept jogging off the field, to the sideline, and did not return.

LaFleur said Watson’s hamstring injury last week was “a little bit more complicated” because it happened before the practice’s intensity increased.

“You look at the volume and workload,” LaFleur said, “and always looking at yourself critically, what you can do better. We’ve had a few too many soft-tissue injuries, so that probably tells you that we’re maybe pushing them a little too much. It’s an unfortunate part of it. I feel bad about it, but there’s nothing we can do about it retroactively. We can only control moving forward what we ask our guys to do.

“I’ve got our guys kind of looking into our workloads from the past couple years to where we are at this point, and we’ll make any adjustments that we need to, to make sure we have our guys available for Sunday.”

LaFleur wasn’t ready to say Monday what adjustments might be coming while the study is ongoing. One possible change might be moving the Packers’ padded practice back to Thursday, but he has not yet decided that.

“That’s definitely crossed my mind,” LaFleur said.

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Of bigger issue, he said, was how much workload he’s given his players in practice. With his team above .500 for the first time this season, putting their loss in the opener behind them, that might be subject to change.

“We’re going to look at everything,” LaFleur said. “Especially just our volume of workload, and see where we’re at in comparison to years past.”

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