Matt LaFleur declines to answer questions about Aaron Rodgers, thanks the Packers quarterback for 'great times'

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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PHOENIX – Matt LaFleur sat down in his green blazer he quipped was won at the Masters, pulled up his seat Tuesday morning at the NFL owners meetings inside the Arizona Biltmore Resort, and thanked Aaron Rodgers for the memories.

In his first comments since shortly after last season ended – LaFleur did not speak last month at the NFL scouting combine – the Green Bay Packers coach was disinterested in discussing his soon-to-be former quarterback. Asked if he’s had better luck contacting Rodgers this offseason than general manager Brian Gutekunst, LaFleur wouldn’t say. Asked when he realized Rodgers would no longer be his starting quarterback, LaFleur didn’t budge.

LaFleur showed his appreciation for Rodgers, who he coached to two MVPs. Whatever the coach thinks of his future Hall of Famer’s impending departure from the team, he kept that part to himself.

“Listen,” LaFleur said, “I’m just going to throw it out there right away. First of all, I’ve got nothing but love and appreciation for what Aaron has done for so many in our organization. Obviously, have experienced a lot of great times together, won a lot of football games together. Ultimately, didn’t bring home a Super Bowl, which will always be disappointing. He’s done so much for myself, my family, our coaches’ families, so many people within the organization, other players.

“A lot of people have been rewarded, quite frankly, because of his ability to go out there and play and play at such a high level. I’m just going to leave it at that.”

LaFleur said he got a call from Jets coach Robert Saleh early in the trade process with Rodgers. The two are best friends. LaFleur credits Saleh for getting him his start in the NFL. To alleviate potential awkwardness, LaFleur suggested the two coaches leave the Rodgers trade business to their general managers.

“I was like, ‘Hey man, I’m out of it. That’s between them,’” LaFleur said. “I think we both agreed. He’s certainly a guy that I’ve got a lot of love and respect for. We go back.”

What's the backup quarterback situation like?

When the Packers turned to Aaron Rodgers in 2008, they drafted two quarterbacks in that spring’s draft. With Danny Etling their only quarterback behind Jordan Love now, LaFleur left open the possibility of drafting another passer this spring.

“I think you can go a couple different ways,” LaFleur said.

One would be adding a veteran in free agency to back up Love. LaFleur said it’s important for a young quarterback to have a veteran to “lean on” when becoming a first-time starter, especially during the expected adversity of transitioning into a new role.

If no target surfaces on the free-agent market, the Packers alternative would be the draft.

“If you fall in love with somebody in the draft,” LaFleur said, “you can draft a young guy. There’s a lot of different ways to do it. I’ve been a part of a lot of different quarterback rooms. So I just think you gotta try to figure out and get the best guy available.”

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What about Keisean Nixon on offense?

It’s been a quiet free agency period for the Packers in terms of acquisitions, but they retained a significant piece in All-Pro kick returner Keisean Nixon. LaFleur indicated he might get creative in maximizing Nixon’s playmaking ability.

When Nixon re-signed, LaFleur said he joked with the slot cornerback about possibly getting some snaps on offense.

“I said, ‘Hey, you never know, there might be some opportunities offensively,’” LaFleur said. “And I know he was fired up to hear that. For us, it truly is. If he can handle it, I’ve got no problem putting him in there in some situations on offense. But got to make sure that we take care of that nickel spot first and foremost, and continue to progress as a returner. Because he hasn’t done it very long, but when he did it he was super successful.”

LaFleur saw how explosive Nixon can be with the football when he returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown late in the season against the Minnesota Vikings. It was the Packers’ first kickoff return touchdown since 2011.

Nixon, who LaFleur called a “dynamic player,” still has room to grow as a returner. Before returning 35 kickoffs last season, he had only six returns in the first three seasons of his career. His inexperience showed at times. LaFleur suggested once Nixon becomes more polished as a returner, snaps on offense might be the next step in his development.

“We’ve got to make sure he stays disciplined, too, now,” LaFleur said, “because I think you saw it in that Detroit game (in the finale), there were times he kind of went off the reservation and kind of went rogue and wasn’t following the scheme, and we can’t have that.”

What was behind the Rich Bisaccia promotion?

Even if he doesn’t have a roster spot, there was no bigger piece the Packers organization retained this offseason than special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia.

After turning around the special teams in his first season, Bisaccia was a finalist for the Indianapolis Colts head coaching job. The Colts ultimately hired Shane Steichen, ensuring Bisaccia would return.

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LaFleur believes Bisaccia should be a head coach in the NFL, but he’s happy to have him back leading the Packers special teams.

“Rich has had a big impact just watching how he coaches,” LaFleur said, “has had a big impact on me. How he leads, the messages he gives to those guys, so I think there’s a lot to learn from Rich Bisaccia. We are so fortunate to have him.

“I personally think he’s one of those guys that should be here (at the head coaches’ breakfast) right now. I think he’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around, just how he’s able to coach guys really hard and these guys will run through a brick wall for him because they know he cares about the man.”

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