Five takeaways from Green Bay Packers offensive coaches, including curing rookie receiver's drops problem

Kassidy Hill
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY − The week continued for Green Bay Packers assistant coaches and their time at the media podium, with the cabinet of offensive minds speaking Thursday.

The emphasis, of course, was on quarterback Jordan Love and his education under Tom Clements. But with the Packers largest draft class, boasting 13 players, there were a litany of other changes to discuss.

Here are five takeaways from what the offensive coaches had to share. 

Rookie wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks (13) will try to eliminate the drops that plagued him in college last season.

Rookie Dontayvion Wicks' drops can be fixed 

Last offseason, Packers receivers coach Jason Vrable was handed the talented Christian Watson with the directive to make him NFL ready … namely, fix his drops problem. By season’s end, he seemed to do just that, with Watson becoming one of the biggest downfield threats in the league. 

Now, Vrable is being asked to do it again, this time with fifth-rounder Dontayvion Wicks. The receiver out of Virginia was dynamic his second season, with 57 receptions for 1,203 yards and nine touchdowns. But his final season with the Cavaliers took a downward turn, finishing with 30 receptions for 430 yards and two touchdowns. Some of that was due to a truncated tragedy-struck Virginia season, some was due to a new offense under a new coach, but much was due to a case of the drops by Wicks. 

Vrable turned on Wicks' tape and said he identified the problem, whittling it down to Wicks' propensity to turn up field too quickly, or “hands underneath when it got past the eyes.” It can happen, the coach explained, when teams aren’t winning and guys try too hard to make a play. 

“Slowing down, I told him play with great fundamentals like you did on all the other catches,” Vrable said. “Play within who you are, the best version of yourself. You can’t be Superman out there, trying to win the game every single play … Your work ethic will take care of that, eventually you’ll have less and less drops.”

The offensive line is open for business 

“It’s a competition everywhere,” offensive line coach Luke Butkus said, echoing what offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said earlier in the week. “We’ve got a lot of experience in that room right now. That’s a good thing.”

From center through the right side, both coaches pointed out, each spot is up for grabs. Second-year lineman Zach Tom, who proved highly versatile his rookie season, has one of the best shots to take control of a position. 

“Zach is versatile,” Butkus said, “he’s gonna have an opportunity to play a couple different spots this year. And we’re excited for it. So how do we find out? Repetition … (Zach will) take a lot of reps at tackle, take a lot of reps at guard and maybe center as well.” 

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With center coming up more than once, questions predictably rise around Josh Myers, who started in the spot the past two seasons (albeit only seven games in 2021). Butkus maintains the competition is about finding the best five together, and doesn’t necessarily reflect on Myers. 

“Last year was almost like he was a rookie. Josh is doing everything he can,” Butkus said. “He just needs to keep working, just like everybody else … he’s not, not meeting our expectations. That’s not what we’re talking about. He just needs to keep working to get better, like everybody in that room.” 

Butkus shared that Sean Rhyan will also take snaps at guard and center, while Yosh Nijman will “absolutely” get more reps on the right side this spring.

“If you’re not a starter on this team," he said, "you better be able to play a lot of positions.”

David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins finding solid footing 

The one consistency in the Packers 2022 season was the inconsistency along the left side of the offensive line. Both David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins pushed to return from knee and ACL injuries and were largely a question mark from week to week.  

The Packers believe they’ve found more solid footing with Bakhtiari and his training schedule. 

“We had this conversation about knowing your own body,” Butkus said. “He’s in a good place. I feel confident coming up here and saying he’s in a good place physically and mentally. He’s sharp, this is year five in the system for him so he knows what to do.”

With Jenkins, now entering year two in his ACL recovery, coaches have seen a return to form for the All-Pro. 

“We’ll see when the pads come on,” Butkus said. “But there were some times last year when he flashed. He was continuing to get better every week towards the end of the season, when he was playing left guard for us, he was looking like Elgton Jenkins.” 

Tight ends Tucker Kraft (85) and Luke Musgrave walk to Packers rookie minicamp.

Patience is key for young tight ends Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft

The Packers are pinning a lot of their offensive hopes on the development of two rookie tight ends. Drafting Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft in the second and third round, respectively, Green Bay can build their scheme around two-tight end sets. Returners Josiah Deguara and Tyler Davis also plan to take up the mantel more as blocking tight ends. 

This is still a steep learning curve for Musgrave and Kraft, though, something position coach John Dunn is quick to remind. 

More:After persevering through his father's death, Packers rookie Tucker Kraft is ready to spread his wings and fly

“There is no cookie-cutter way,” Dunn said. “For some guys, it might be faster, for some guys, it's other timeframes. And right now for us, and I know this is cliche, but it's true, it truly is day by day.

“Right now we're just trying to learn how to line up and do the basic things in our offense. At some point, we’ll start to get there, but it truly is day by day … I wish there's a magic formula, by X amount of time like you're gonna be there. 

“But again, the positive is all these guys are intelligent, and they work hard. And that's a very, very good recipe for understanding.” 

Whether it’s the rookies or the more experienced players, there is no true substitute for Marcedes Lewis as a blocker. Finding that replacement, Dunn said, will require patience. 

“That’s where we’re going through it,” Dunn said. “For some of these guys, the rookies are gonna be blocking guys on the edge, that maybe they haven’t that type of skill set. That’s just something they’re gonna have to go through.”

AJ Dillon has spent offseason working on specific mechanics 

Running back AJ Dillon had much the same numbers in 2022 as he did in 2021, finishing last year with 186 carries, averaging 4.1 yards per attempt, and seven touchdowns. However, that was thanks in large part to a four-game stretch at the end of the season that raised his average. 

Power runners like Dillon have a strong base that makes it difficult for them to be tackled low. That was an issue with Dillon last season, though, something he readily admits. Earlier this offseason, Dillon posted a long and thoughtful response to a fan on social media, taking responsibility for the issue and promising it was being addressed. 

On Thursday, running backs coach Ben Sirmans expounded, breaking down specific mechanics he’s had Dillon working on during the offseason. 

“I think the biggest thing like for him is, obviously, running with that good pad level. I gave him a couple of mechanical drills to do that, kind of focusing more on his knee lift,” Sirmans said. “In our room, we always talk about accelerating on contact. Even when he was hit low, if he accelerated through the contact point, he usually either got tackled going forward or he broke through the tackle. 

“The biggest thing we always talk about is that you can't let your legs die when you get hit. Which gets back to accelerating through contact. We do different drills about that, but a big part of it is a mindset, that even though this guy's coming at me pretty low, I’m not gonna allow him to bring me down. And then some of those mechanical drills that I gave him to work on in the offseason, I think those things should help him.”

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