Coordinators Media Availability - That's What Cheese Said

The Packers coordinators met with the media via Zoom last week to discuss the virtual offseason and much more. 

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, and special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga spoke with the media last Friday via Zoom. There was a lot to like from each of the coordinators, even beyond their virtual Lambeau Field backgrounds.  

Starting with video conferencing in general, it’s been a great way for the coaches to get to know the new players on the team without being able to see them in person. 

Pettine mentioned the virtual meetings being broken down by each position rather than his defense as a whole, which gives him the flexibility to work more closely with each of the small units. And to keep things interesting, the coaches have implemented quizzes about the defense with a virtual leaderboard to get the guys competing with one another despite the distance. 

For Hackett, he made sure to give a shoutout to teachers and the work they put in every day educating children across America. He added that the virtual offseason has forced the coaching staff to find new ways to be innovative, which has led to a lot of self-reflection and self-evaluation as to what the coaching staff can improve upon. 

“We’re lucky that we all know each other very well. That’s definitely a benefit,” Hackett said, pointing out that the coaching staff has talked about how lucky they are that this didn’t happen in 2019 when they were all brand new to Green Bay trying to implement a new offense and familiarize themselves to the players in the locker room. 

He added that year two is going to be huge for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offense, especially with Rodgers having spent so many years in a different system. Now he’s going into his second season with some familiarity and comfort in LaFleur’s scheme. Hackett also mentioned that the coaches have looked at how to shorten the offensive verbiage for Rodgers and the offense going into this second year now that there’s a deeper understanding of the scheme. 

But, perhaps the biggest upside for the team right now is the core familiarity with the offense returning almost all of its starters, so there’s already an established trust in players and coaches alike. 

That familiarity even carried over with one of the team’s free agent signings in Christian Kirksey. 

“A great signing for us for a lot of reasons. We’re not just bringing a really good player into the room, this is a guy that’s got great leadership ability, he already has a head start on learning the system with him being drafted obviously when I was in Cleveland,” said Pettine. 

He also made sure to address any questions about Kirksey’s injury history, saying he seems to have recovered fully and there aren’t any concerns moving forward that he’s an injury-prone player. 

Kirksey also played with Shawn Mennenga in Cleveland and was part of the core four on special teams, though that likely won’t be the case now that he’ll be a starter in Pettine’s defense. 

Still, Mennenga did say that unless it’s a quarterback, every player takes part in special teams meetings at least occasionally. 

“We’re going to train everybody,” Mennenga said, recognizing that a lot of his special teams contributors are often rookies he hasn’t been able to familiarize himself with yet in person. 

Both safety Will Redmond and wide receiver Allen Lazard received shoutouts for their leadership on special teams, though Mennenga did say he didn’t want to single just a few people out when his entire unit has stepped up during this virtual offseason to challenge one another as vocal leaders. 

Mennenga also mentioned the “great spark” Tyler Ervin provided for the room and said he was excited to get him back, both for special teams and the role he can serve on offense. 

“That’s a really exciting room right now,” Hackett added of the running backs room with A.J. Dillon joining Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, and Tyler Ervin. 

“We always want a marrying between the run game and the play pass and the play actions,” said Hackett. 

“Versatility” was also a buzz word during Hackett’s conference call, used to describe new tight end Josiah Deguara and what he can contribute to the Packers offense, with Hackett saying he can line up in a number of spots and contribute in a number of different ways. 

Similarly, Jace Sternberger also got a shoutout for the strength and playmaking ability he brings to the offense, with expectations high for his second year in the league after an unfortunate slow start due to injuries his rookie season. 

And of course, the Hackett call wouldn’t have been complete without questions about Jordan Love, to which he replied that Love has a lot of “intangibles” to like when it comes to coaching. 

“He’s got a great opportunity right now to learn from one of the greatest to ever play the game,” Hackett said of Love’s ability to absorb the offense behind Aaron Rodgers. 

As high as the expectations are for both the new skill players and returning skill players on offense, Pettine has equally high expectations for his defense in 2020.

“We’re looking forward to Rashan making a big jump,” he said, adding that he sees Gary taking an increased role this season.

Gary brings that buzz word “versatility” back to the defensive side of the ball, with Pettine saying he can kick inside and rush from a tackle spot in addition to rushing off the edge, similar to how Za’Darius Smith played last season. 

There’s a lot of optimism surrounding the edge unit, with Pettine acknowledging that in 2019 they took some of the reps out of the defensive line room and gave those snaps to the edge group given the depth of the unit last season. Gary was mentioned here again as a player who can rush as a roaming lineman like Za’Darius did at times last season. 

Both returning practice squad holdover Tim Williams and seventh-round draft pick Jonathan Garvin were recognized as depth players behind Gary, Preston Smith, and Za’Darius. 

“This is as deep an outside linebackers room as I've been a part of in a long time. It’s a great problem to have,” said Pettine, also acknowledging that Preston and Za’Darius likely played a few too many snaps in 2019 so the hope is that Gary and the rest of the unit can take some of that load off. 

While the edge unit received heaps of praise, Pettine was also quick to point out the defensive linemen on his defense, describing Kingsley Keke as a “raw” player with plenty of natural ability as a pass rusher. In year two, they expect Keke to play “an increased role” on defense. Still, the linemen need to develop, with Pettine also highlighting Montravius Adams as a player the team needs to take a jump. 

The defensive line play segued into conversation about the NFC Championship Game and the team’s lack of run defense. 

“It’s tough to realize that we played our worst game at the worst time,” said Pettine. “We were a game away.”

Pettine added that his goal on defense is still to be aggressive up front, prioritizing knockbacks and the ability to attack up the field rather than laterally filling gaps. “We’re going to get blocked. The key is to not stay blocked.” 

Guys like A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones will give Pettine’s defense plenty to practice against during training camp. 

“What’s great is that our offense has such a strong commitment to running the football that when we do get to go against them in camp, that’s going to be a point of emphasis for both sides,” said Pettine. 

The idea of familiarity remained consistent throughout each coach’s conference call, with Pettine again acknowledging how lucky the team is to have a solid foundation going into 2020 after a season full of new coaches and new free agent acquisitions in 2019. 

“It is nice to be able to kind of pick up where we left off, especially on the back end,” Pettine said of Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage both getting through their first season in his defense. 

“It is a good feeling to know that, given our circumstances, that we’re not going to have a ton of on-the-field time, the unit that we’re going to trot out there on day one are going to be guys that are all very experienced in the system.” 

While it was a tough end to a 14-win 2019 season, Pettine is confident the team can bounce back in 2020. 

"It was a tough pill to swallow. You're always remembered by your last performance, and I hate for it to tarnish what we were able to accomplish during the year when we won 14 games,” he said. 

“We're not going to do that and let it be this dark cloud hanging over us, but at the same time it's not going to be something we sweep under the carpet. We'll address it, and we'll do it again when the players are in town and it's face to face."

While the virtual offseason program has gone about as smoothly as the coaching staff could have hoped thus far, nothing can replace the work that will be done when everyone is back together at 1265 Lombardi Ave.

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and podcasts for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (8)

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mariahughes's picture

May 26, 2020 at 06:44 pm

Thank you!

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ricky's picture

May 26, 2020 at 08:13 pm

Now is the time to be optimistic. And if Gary and Sternberger can make jumps, then so can MVS and ESB. And Kirksey can give more versatility as far as coverage and run protection. And if Rodgers buys into the system even more, and starts winning games by a mixture of pass and run, and Jones does become a bigger contributor in the passing game, well, it could be another exciting season. How about MVP for AR and Coach of the Year for LaFleur? And bring on KC in the SB, we'd be ready to outgun them offensively and challenge them defensively. If this seems overblown, so what? It's time to be optimistic.

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billybauer's picture

May 26, 2020 at 09:26 pm

looking forward to next season, if we even have one.

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PhantomII's picture

May 26, 2020 at 10:23 pm

I read an article that said ML was changing the offensive calls to shorten them up and speed up the offense. I don't know how they are doing it now but with ML's card in hand and say you're in the red zone. All ML would have to tell Aaron is say Red#7 which would equate to a certain play color coded say red for red zone and Aaron could dictate the whole play #7 from his arm band. That couldn't take too long. I don't know if ML is saying the whole play instead of a similar design but who knows.

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NickPerry's picture

May 27, 2020 at 05:11 am

I'll bet you a soda pop Rodgers still runs the play clock down to 0 before snapping the ball. I think if he started mixing it up, try drawing the defense offsides every so often instead of EVERY PLAY, he might actually have some success with it again. IIRC it wasn't working that much last year at all.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 27, 2020 at 02:36 pm

There are benefits to running the play clock down. One is that it gives Rodgers a better look at the coverage, another is that it helps burn the clock, so your opponent gets fewer possessions and scores fewer points. That part worked pretty well, I think.

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PatrickGB's picture

May 27, 2020 at 01:00 pm

I remember watching Clark’s film from his college days. What stood out to me was his ability to disengage from his block. What bothered me was the film from the other DL players was that they, often, could not. My only solace was that they were not first round players. I guess you get what you pay for.

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murf7777's picture

May 28, 2020 at 12:15 pm

A side note not related to this article. I’ve been researching the Deguara pick to see how he compare to others. Obviously the Packers liked him a lot for various reasons, including good senior bowl and combine results, and many here questioned picking him in the third versus waiting till the end of the 5th.

So, in my research I found it interesting that 6 TE’s were picked after Packers pick 91st thru the 4th round. That’s 6 TE’s picked over roughly the next 40 picks. My quess is Deguara would’ve been one of those 6 and the packers would not have had the opportunity to pick him later in the draft. Interesting Belichick took 2 TE’s late in the 3rd round, one just before and after the Packers pick.

Gutey and MLF have a strategy they are working to a key, whether many of us think both Dillon and Deguara was reaches really doesn’t matter if they turn out to be good players. I’m excited to see how this works out. Get ready for smash mouth football!

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