Packers rookie Sean Clifford might have Aaron Rodgers' locker, but his job is to learn the offense like Jordan Love
GREEN BAY – Sean Clifford didn’t care where he saw his last name hanging inside the Green Bay Packers locker room. He’s a rookie, just drafted in the fifth round, and this is rookie minicamp. The first time Clifford stepped inside his new stadium, the former Penn State quarterback was just happy to be there.
It didn’t take long for Clifford to learn he didn’t just have just any locker. Even before the throng of media let him know his new cubicle had been occupied by Aaron Rodgers, those who remain with the team gave him a nudge. “Probably over 10,” he said. It’s not much of a secret when the same quarterback has used a locker for almost two decades.
"I understand who was in here before,” Clifford said, “and I respect everything about that, but at the same time, I came in, I found my name on the plate, and I sat down. I'm doing whatever it takes to win games here. I'm very appreciative of the opportunity."
Clifford’s influence on the franchise might not carry the same weight as the quarterback who kept his new seat warm the past 18 seasons, but he has an important job this weekend. As the Packers hold their rookie minicamp, veterans are away from the facility. That means no Jordan Love, even if he is entering his first season as the Packers starting quarterback.
With five new offensive skill players getting their first NFL experience, including a receiver and two tight ends drafted in the second and third rounds, Clifford is the stand in. It’s his offense until Love returns. Among his jobs in the backup role, Clifford said, it will be important to mirror Love on the field.
“You always want to resemble that guy who’s been here,” he said. “So being able to hear his cadence, the way he talks to the guys, the way he is in the huddle is very important. Because I was never in a huddle on the field (at Penn State). We’d huddle on the sideline, get that quick, little experience, but once I was on the field it was all signals. So now hearing the call and going into the huddle, and being like, ‘All right, here we go, guys. This is what we’re going to do.’ And being able to tell that story in the huddle about what that play is going to be.”
Packers rookies on offense already starting to build chemistry with Jordan Love
As Love assumes a new leadership role in the locker room, it didn’t take him long to connect with his new backup. Clifford said he received a congratulatory phone call within an hour of being drafted Saturday. The two quarterbacks didn’t have much time to talk football, Clifford said, but the welcome was appreciated.
Love’s new targets systematically heard from their new quarterback after being drafted, too. For each, the conversation was the same. A quick welcome, a congratulations. They’ll connect more when Love returns to the facility. Second-round tight end Luke Musgrave said he’s looking forward to catching passes from Love on the practice field.
“I’ve mostly just looked at the playbook,” Musgrave said. “I’d rather just throw with people.”
Second-round receiver Jayden Reed couldn’t wait. The day he was drafted, Reed started searching YouTube clips of Love’s small sample size in the NFL. He kept watching his new quarterback’s film when the Packers handed out iPads this week.
“I kind of go through the film a little bit, too,” Reed said. “Yeah, I’ve been doing a little creeping, and figuring him out a little bit.”
Their first job, starting this week, will be learning coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. The Packers held a practice Friday, and they’ll be back inside the Don Hutson Center on Saturday.
Rookie tight ends Luke Musgrave, Tucker Kraft plan to grow together
Musgrave gets an added benefit of learning his new playbook alongside third-round tight end Tucker Kraft. The two became acquainted “a decent amount” before joining the same locker room, both part of a heralded class of tight ends entering the draft. Musgrave and Kraft took a pre-draft visit to the Cincinnati Bengals together.
“I think we’re going to be really good friends,” Musgrave said. “So it’s a really good situation.”
Kraft started looking for a place to live shortly after being drafted. Musgrave said he expects to find a place close to his new teammate. The two started studying LaFleur’s offense together Thursday after arriving in town.
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“It’s pretty good to have a good tight end room,” Musgrave said. “You want to have a good room. You don’t want just one good tight end. So it’s good to have a tight end room, and you guys can push each other, and having a good tight end room makes you as an individual player better.”
There will be many more joint study sessions to follow. The new arrivals on the Packers offense will need a rudimentary understanding of the scheme before they start catching passes from Love. They’ll have Clifford to help in the meantime, but the rookie knows his role on the depth chart.
Even if Clifford is several months older than Love, this is a new experience.
"I'm a rookie,” Clifford said. “That's all I know. Age for me, in this situation, is not what I'm focusing on. It's the fact this is my first year. Very excited to be here."