LaFleur installs his offense

New look, new drills, new voice in Green Bay

Mike Clemens
May 24, 2019 - 6:26 pm

Sportsradio 105.7 FM The FAN

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Green Bay, WI – The Green Bay Packers completed their first week of OTA (organized team activities) practices this week under Matt LaFleur. With each day we learn a little more about where the team is headed under the first year head coach and his young coaching staff.

The practices have a different structure to be sure.

The first few periods this week were special team drills, then followed by some warm-ups and stretching in the third period.

There was a new energy. A new look. Lots of new voices.

During individual drills, LaFleur did something a little different.

For example, instead of the running backs running into each other holding blocking pads, they ran into a squad of linebackers that joined in the drill. LaFleur says besides teaching technique, “We try to create competition every chance we get.”

OTA’s are limited to helmets and shorts. That makes it difficult to decide if a defender can tackle, or if a running back can “fall forward” and pick up an extra three yards per carry. It’s nearly impossible to judge the work of linemen.

A lot can be gained during these practices watching defensive backs in pass coverage, receivers getting separation, and accurate throws by quarterbacks.

Thumbs up: To Aaron Rodgers who dropped in the pocket on a 7-on-7 drill, looked off to his right, came back to the far left and zipped a 35-yard dart to #16 former U.W. -Whitewater Warhawk Jake Kumerow, as he got a step on a crossing route against speedy rookie safety #26  Darnell Savage Jr.

Rodgers and Kumerow looked like they’d been playing together for five years.

Thumbs down: To second-year receiver #83 Marquez Valdez-Scantling, who beat a defender by a full step down the right sideline, extended his hands in the air above his 6-foot-4 frame for an easy target.  Back-up quarterback DeShone Kizer stood tall and delivered a beautiful deep pass about 45-yards down field, tight spiral, plenty of spin, and OUCH – in and out of “MVS’s” gloved hands. He jogged back to the huddle, shaking his head.

Now that Randall Cobb is a Dallas Cowboy, who will line up in the slot in LaFleur’s offense?

Even though he’s 6-foot-3, Geronimo Allison could be a candidate.

Last December Rodgers was asked how much he missed Allison, who was on IR, along with Cobb who was out most of the season with injuries? Rodgers indicated “G-Mo” would have been a capable replacement for Cobb in the slot, and that he had run plays several times from that spot in previous games.

(For me it was almost “the writing on the wall” that the team could move on without Cobb and not re-sign him after the season – which is exactly what they did.)

LaFleur says as he evaluates the Packers wide receiver corps, he’s not only ranking players, he is also trying to determine their skill set.

“It’s like filling out a basketball roster,” said LaFleur. “You’re not going to go out and play with five point guards. You need a speed guy. You need a guy that’s got short-area quickness. We’d like to have a couple guys that are versatile enough to do both of those things.”

“You need guys that are at a certain area of expertise, and then it’s our job as coaches to put those guys into position where they can showcase that skill set,” LaFleur said.

An undrafted player that stood out for me was #49 Evan Baylis. Big, tall, broad shoulders. A blocking tight end. Huge. 6-foot-5, 250 lbs. 25 years old, out of Oregon. Like Kumerow, Baylis has actually spent two years in the NFL with time spent with the Texans, Colts, and Panthers. These kinds of players with at least some NFL experience seem to be getting more looks in Green Bay than previous years.

The Athletics’ Packers reporter Michael Cohen pointed out there are currently 13 undrafted players with previous NFL experience on the Packers 90-man roster. That’s more than the final three years of rosters combined under former GM Ted Thompson.

The offensive lineman were working on their outside zone blocking, the scheme LaFleur says they will use as they increase the running game in Green Bay. Offensive tackles were in tandem with tight ends to double team defensive lineman and move them off the line of scrimmage and into the defensive territory. New offensive line coaching assistant Luke Butkus, the nephew of legendary Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, was running the drill with plenty of vigor. Veteran left tackle David Bakhtairi was adding his thoughts on how blockers have to be aware how their running backs are going change their approach to the line, and how they need to lead the charge.

As mentioned, the practice opened with the first two periods devoted to special teams. New special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga, and his two assistants, Maurice Drayton and Rayna Stewart, were allowed to get time with the players while their bodies and minds were still fresh. The Packers special teams have performed poorly in recent years. It’s the first time the team has assigned three coaches to special teams.

The biggest story of the week was Josh Jones not showing up to the voluntary OTA’s. Rob Demovsky of ESPN reported Jones wants to be traded.

The third year safety probably understood why the team signed veteran Adrian Amos of the Bears in free agency to take over at strong safety after Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was traded to the Redskins, then signed with the Bears after the season. But when GM Brian Gutekunst traded up and used a first round pick on Maryland safety Darnell Savage Jr., that was the last straw.

At one time the Packers had a plan at safety. Morgan Burnett was at his peak, and they used a first round pick on Clinton-Dix out of Alabama to join him as a free safety and learn the position. After Burnett was eventually not re-signed, the Packers used a second round pick on Jones out of NC State.

But Clinton – Dix seemed to stall in his development, then seemingly flat out quit on plays. Undrafted safety Kentrell Brice earned his role as the leader of the secondary, but a serious ankle injury cut short his playing time in Green Bay. Brice was signed in March by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Packers moved on, acquiring Amos and Savage, with little trust in Jones ability to anticipate the correct coverage in key situations.

Yet, the Packers are still very short at safety. Jones may be missing on his best opportunity in Green Bay.

The Packers were excited on picking up 27-year-old Ibraheim Campbell (Browns, Cowboys, Jets) in November, but he suffered a torn ACL a few weeks later. That leaves undrafted Raven Greene at safety who got plenty in reps last summer in training camp, but also finished on the injured reserve list in December with an ankle injury.

Greene is getting the reps this week in OTA’s that could have been taken by Jones.

On the defensive line, when veteran Mo Wilkerson, signed last year in free agency from the Jets, went down with a severe ankle injury that required two surgeries, and hospitalization in Washington D.C. several days after a loss against the Redskins, and later Mike Daniels was out, the Packers elevated another undrafted player, #95 Tyler Lancaster, 6-foot-3, 313 lbs. from Northwestern, to play both at defensive tackle and later nose tackle. The word around the locker room was the 24-year-old was making a good, first impression. He was praised by the coaches for some of his plays against the Rams.

Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, one of the coaches brought back from Pettine’s staff from last year, confirmed that Lancaster is a player on the rise.

“He gives you ever thing you ask for. If you tell him to gain 10 pounds by tomorrow, he’ll put on 10 pounds. If you ask him to lose 20 pounds, he won’t be happy until he loses 20 pounds. Very hard worker. Smart kid,” said Montgomery.

The Packers will hold OTA practices open to the public, Wednesday, May 24, and Tuesday June 4th.

The sessions begin at 12:05pm CDT on the Clarke Hinkle Field, east of the Don Hutson indoor center, weather permitting.

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