First Three Practices - That’s What Cheese Said

Hear from a number of players and the head coach about the first few practices of training camp. 

Training camp is officially here. While fans aren’t in the stands and players aren’t riding bikes to Ray Nitschke Field like usual, Matt LaFleur and his players are still speaking with the media after practice via Zoom. We’ve officially gotten through the first three practices of camp, including the first padded practice that took place today, so here’s what the players and head coach had to say about preparations for the 2020 season. 

Should we start with A.J. Dillon? I feel like we should get that out of the way early. His legs are unreal, and they were a focal point of almost every presser initially, starting with LaFleur himself. 

“A.J. Dillon, he has got some massive legs, and that’s something we talked about with our staff,” he said. “We have not seen a running back built like that. Not in my career that I’ve ever been around.”

Remember, this is the same LaFleur who coached Derrick Henry in Tennessee, the league’s current rushing yards champ. Dillon was also compared to Eddie Lacy earlier this week by General Manager Brian Gutekunst, and if you’ve seen any footage from camp of Dillon’s affinity for the spin move, you’ll know why. 

When QB1 was asked about his new backfield weapon, he simply referred to Dillon as a “big boy.”

“He’s a large, large man. He walks around pretty comfortably at 250 for a back and moves really well,” Aaron Rodgers said of Dillon. “Big legs, big calves, he’s a well-built guy. I’m excited to see him get up to speed mentally. That’s going to be his biggest hurdle, especially with the guys in that room who have a pretty good comfort within the offense.”

On the defensive side of the ball, new inside linebacker Christian Kirksey explained the mentality that goes into tackling someone of Dillon’s size. 

“As a linebacker, you want to man up and say ‘if I see you in the hole I’m going to hit you up top,’ but when you see how big he is, you almost gotta go low,” Kirksey laughed. “But then you look at his legs, and he’s got tree trunks. So you might wanna think twice with that too. I’m excited to see what he brings to the table.”

But segueing away from quads, something LaFleur is excited about, in addition to Dillon’s powerful legs, are his hands. 

“I think he’s definitely demonstrated the ability to show those natural hands,” LaFleur said of Dillon, despite him not being asked to catch many passes at Boston College. “He can reach and pluck it out in front of him.”

That versatility in the running backs room will help the offense going into year two trying to capitalize on LaFleur’s vision for his offensive system, with running back Aaron Jones also mentioning the work he did to improve his pass-catching this offseason. 

Third-year quarterback Tim Boyle did a nice job highlighting the idea of multiplicity that LaFleur often references in his conferences and how it relates to the offense.

“What I think that we’re doing a good job of is marrying formations in runs and passes, which I think is going to be challenging for defenses,” said Boyle. “I think a lot of offenses try to do that but I think moving forward, finding our identity, we’re going to be doing a lot more play action stuff. Just things that mirror off runs or nakeds but trying to make it look the same.”

Rodgers also discussed how “sharp” things looked, even on the first day of camp. 

“I think a lot of that on offense is it’s our second year. We’re just more comfortable in the offense and feeling a little better about play selection, timing, responsibility within each play,” he said. “We’ve added onto a lot of different things that we did well last year. And it’s only day one. That’s the fun part.”

Jones agreed that having another year in the same offense will benefit the team and allow them to do more, showcasing each player’s versatility. 

“This is our second year in this offense so I think a lot of us feel comfortable, know what’s going on, know the small details,” he said. 

Plenty of young players will be called upon to step up this season, as both the head coach and starting quarterback emphasized that there are position battles at almost every position to watch. 

“I think there’s a lot of position battles that’ll be fun to look at,” Rodgers said. “Obviously there’s opportunities on the offensive line. There’s opportunities at tight end. There’s opportunities, who’s going to be kind of that fullback hybrid. There’s a lot of opportunities at wide receiver.”

Rodgers went on to add the defensive line, the nickel spot that’s been vacated by Tramon Williams, and inside linebacker, pointing out that these battles are kind of what makes it fun as an older player, seeing how the depth chart shakes out. 

One of Rodgers’ positions to watch, inside linebacker, has been talked about plenty this offseason, and Kirksey knows it. 

“Those guys are working hard, right now we’re all cross-training.” said Kirksey on the other inside linebackers in the room. “Everybody is versatile. Everybody is athletic.”

Third-year pro Oren Burks has taken the starting reps opposite Kirksey for the time being, but expect Ty Summers, Kamal Martin, and Curtis Bolton to get their looks in addition to the undrafted rookies that were brought in. 

“With more and more reps that I get, the more confident that I get,” said Oren Burks, adding that he’s ready to stack days and that he’s excited to get back out on the field now that he feels fully healthy. His first few seasons he struggled with injuries that derailed a lot of his progress initially, but now Burks is more than confident he’ll be able to contribute to the team however he’s asked to, whether that’s on special teams or on defense. 

On the opposite side of the ball, one player making a name for himself early in camp is Tyler Ervin, someone his teammate Jones called “a weapon” in his own presser. Not only has he shown flashes of athleticism, but he’s lining up with the wide receivers rather than running backs. When asked about a possible position switch, Ervin didn’t think a label was necessary. 

“I’m not really trying to categorize myself because when I feel like I do that I think I limit myself,” he said. “I’m just going to try to do what I can to contribute to the team in whatever form that is.”

Another offensive player looking for his “home” is lineman Billy Turner, who said he signed with Green Bay due to the opportunities he would have to play all over the line. 

“I’ve never played the same position two years in a row,” said Turner, who’s taken snaps at right guard and right tackle so far in camp. 

Two players poised for big jumps this season include cornerback Chandon Sullivan and outside linebacker Rashan Gary, and both were made available to the media this past week. 

Gary entered training camp noticeably leaner compared to his rookie season, despite gaining weight. He described it as growing into his “grown man body,” and getting to a playing weight of 276lbs. 

“I feel like my second year in the system, I know the defense a lot better than me learning it last year, and everything’s feeling good,” Gary said. He spent his offseason watching plenty of film from his mentors and “big brothers” Preston and Za’Darius Smith. 

"My mindset is to be great,” said Gary. “Watching ‘P,’ watching ‘Z,’ and I know what it takes. And I know to be where I want to be, I've gotta work hard.” 

In the secondary, Sullivan cited his own mentor in Tramon Williams as teaching him “how to be a pro.” Similar to Gary, Sullivan spent the offseason watching almost every snap Williams played in 2019. 

He was also quick to praise new defensive backs coach Jerry Gray.

“He’s allowing us to slow the game down with our mind,” Sullivan said of what Coach Gray has taught the secondary. “He’s telling us what to look for in certain personnel, so on a mental aspect, already the last few weeks he’s been here, my game’s already elevated. I’m able to play the game before the snap’s even played. It starts with your head.”

Of course, breaking news also came out right before the start of camp on Saturday, and that was the extension of defensive lineman Kenny Clark for four years, $70 million. 

“He’s such a solid force inside,” Rodgers said of Clark, saying he’s been an underrated player on defense for the last few seasons and he’s always been stout at the point of attack. “Teams that play him know how dominant he can be.”

“I’m just excited to be a Packer, for the long haul,” Clark said of his contract extension, adding that his agent and the Packers “have been talking for months” about getting a deal done. 

“I’m just blessed. That’s all I can say,” said Clark, who admitted to shaking as he signed his deal. “I worked hard for this. I really believe I deserve it.”

Clark is another key piece in a dominant Packers defense, with talent at every position from the Super Smith Bros to a secondary LaFleur said he felt as good about as any unit in the NFL. 

“We put that pressure on ourselves,” Clark said of the expectations the team has for the defense with so many high-paid, big-name stars. “We always talk about being great, flying to the ball, sacks, stopping the run, everything. We talk about all that. 

“I think we laid the foundation today to figure out what we’re going to be this year.” 

Training camp is the time for every player to take a leap, whether it’s a player like Marquez Valdes-Scantling looking to bounce back after an injury-nagged season, or a guy like Elgton Jenkins wanting to build off his All-Rookie honors and shoot for All-Pro this year.

Or maybe it’s the team's first-round draft pick Jordan Love, who LaFleur has challenged to get one percent better every day. 

“He’s very natural,” LaFleur said of the way Jordan Love throws the ball. “There’s a lot to clean up right now. He’s a young quarterback that is learning a new system. And just how specific we are with the footwork. I think that takes time. But I’m pleased at how he attacks it on a daily basis and I think he’s a really intelligent kid.” 

One thing’s for sure, though. Training camp just isn’t the same in Green Bay when fans aren’t allowed. 

“I think there’s a sadness around it. Just because things, when the normalcy gets radically changed, nostalgically you do miss some of those really fun traditions that kind of make Green Bay Green Bay,” Rodgers said, mentioning that he still keeps in touch from his own bike kid from his first few seasons. 

“I remember when I was a rookie, whenever Favre came out from the Hutson Center, I used to always marvel at the applause he would get,” Rodgers added. “And as I became an older player, I kind of got the same type of reception. There’s just something special about jogging on the field and getting that type of reception from 5,000 people or so standing around, plus the folks in the stands.”

The team will be practicing inside Lambeau Field later this week, which will give rookies and free agent additions the opportunity to experience some of the magic Green Bay has to offer. 

“I think I’m going to have a good career here. I feel it. I feel right at home. It feels like Iowa,” Kirksey said of his short time with the Packers. “I’m a Green Bay Packer and I’m fully invested.”

We’re only three practices in, and while this training camp is certainly unfamiliar, it sure feels good to get to talk about football again. Savor it for however long it lasts this season. The players certainly are. 

 

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

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Comments (2)

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stockholder's picture

August 18, 2020 at 05:18 pm

Everyone looks good in shorts this time of year. I doubt Dillion has the legs of Joe Namath. So Please keep your heart in your in your chest. Maybe number 12 needs to shave his, and do a commercial. ILb? It's still about being a dog, a animal. And Clark? Just Congratulations! While Love might have the Tools. Being a headless horseman won't work, especially after Rodgers. Haven't you ever heard? Love doesn't always WIN. Nice selling job. One of your best.

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PDX_Packfan's picture

August 18, 2020 at 07:23 pm

We still need a large dude for DL.

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