Packers Coaches Are Looking For Ways to Give Rookies More Reps

This year’s training camp has certainly been different from any other. There were no live OTAs or minicamps, the entire preseason has been canceled and even though we are in mid-August and the season is less than a month away (we hope), the Packers have yet to take the practice field in full pads.

So, head coach Matt LaFleur is looking for ways to make sure his rookies and younger players get on the field so they can get up to speed.

“We’ll get the veterans out of there, the guys we know what they can do, and hold the young guys back and have some post-practice scrimmages or periods for those young guys,” LaFleur said. “Not only to get them the experience but to make sure we get a good evaluation on them as well.”

Perhaps the only solace the Packers and their fans can take in all this is that the other 31 NFL teams are also struggling with the same problems.

“Right now, we've only been involved with the walk-throughs,” LaFleur said. “You can see, there are a lot of mistakes, which is to be expected. It's no different than when they come here in the offseason, those OTAs are vital for those guys to get meaningful reps.”

The Packers have a lot of young and inexperienced players on their roster. The team has nine draft picks and 13 undrafted rookies. Then there is the usual contingent of players who have been in training camps elsewhere but have yet to take the field in an NFL game. The Pack has 10 of those in camp right now.

Even under the best of circumstances, rookies and first-year men struggle to make an impression on the coaching staff. But now, without preseason games to prove themselves and rookie camps to help them get up to speed, the challenge will be even greater for both the players and the coaching staff.

Certain high draft picks know they will make the team, but how much can players like second-round pick A.J. Dillon and third-round selection Josiah Deguara contribute this season if they don’t get a chance to get on the field and show what they can do? Rookies across the league will be struggling with this all season even after they make the team.

Other players will face a different type of challenge. Free agent signees Reggie Begelton and Marc-Antoine Dequoy have joined the Packers after playing football in Canada. The Canadian game is quite different from the NFL variety with 12 players on each side, just three downs instead of four, a wider field and different rules regarding motion before the snap.

It will be tougher for these players to adapt to the NFL game with fewer reps and no preseason games. The coaching staff had praised Begelton for his dedication and hard work during the virtual offseason program, but that’s not the same as getting it done on the football field against live opponents.

The Packers are also counting on several young players to make a jump in their level of play in their second or third years in the league. Look at the ILB position. Oren Burks is the most experienced candidate to play opposite Christian Kirksey and yet he’s made only four starts in his first two seasons in the league and played just 12 percent of the Packers defensive snaps in 2018 and six percent last season.

The old cliché is that the game eventually slows down and players gain a better understanding of what’s happening in front of them but that only happens because of experience and experience comes from being on the field.

Green Bay is also hoping for bigger contributions this season from players like Allen Lazard, Kingsley Keke, Jace Sternberger, Rashan Gary and Josh Jackson, but these players can’t take that next step forward without the necessary reps.

In addition, it will be tougher for Cinderella stories to come through and make the team this season. Every year a handful of players surprise observers and make the team off after playing well in preseason games and practices. Allen Lazard was one such player last year. But many players will see their NFL dreams die before they even get a real chance at getting on the football field.

Unfortunately, this is the reality we are all dealing with in 2020. At the end of the day, however, the Packers and the NFL need to do everything they can to make sure their players can stay as safe as possible while still playing games this fall.

We may see some very sloppy football come September inside empty stadiums. It will be strange to say the least, but it will still be better than no football at all.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (30)

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Coldworld's picture

August 13, 2020 at 12:38 pm

Ultimately, even preseason games don’t necessarily give a true picture. It is rare that the bottom third play against true NFL caliber opposition. While the current situation is far from perfect, I think the previously agreed reduction in preseason games supports the idea that evaluation for the professionals is likely less impacted than one might think.

More concerning than roster construction is the effect on playing time due to familiarity and practice in formations or plays. That looks like the focus of the coaching staff and I think that is smart. It may still take longer for the playbook to unfold and for newer players to gain playing time.

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GilMartin's picture

August 13, 2020 at 12:46 pm

I think you're spot on Coldworld about it taking longer for the full playbook to unfold and for newer players to get on the field. This is unknown territory and the Packers coaching staff is doing the best it can to figure things out in this strange set of circumstances we're all in. Thanks for the comment.

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gkarl's picture

August 13, 2020 at 01:32 pm

Here's hoping that our FO coaching staff and scouting dept. have a plan to get the maximum benefit they can from limited amount of time they have to work with. Online and classroom training is beneficial but there is no replacing the on field work and passing the eye test for the coaching staff.

I do feel bad for the guys at the bottom end of NFL rosters its going to be much harder for them to get a chance to live there dream this year and make the 53.

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GilMartin's picture

August 13, 2020 at 02:50 pm

I agree, gkarl. It's sad that somebody may never get the chance to prove themselves through no fault of their own and their NFL dream may die as a result. Coaching will be even more important this year. Thanks for commenting.

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nostradanus's picture

August 13, 2020 at 01:56 pm

Yep I’m sure the NFL is going to be a little sloppy and probably a little sluggish at first. It will be very weird for the players to be playing in stadiums with no fans also as that is where a lot of the energy comes from. The practice squad being increased will be where a lot of these players can get their feet wet through the course of the season. The Packers are bringing back a veteran team with not a lot of holes, I happen to think they will have an advantage over many teams, at least In the first quarter of the season anyway.

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GilMartin's picture

August 13, 2020 at 02:51 pm

I hope so nostradanus. Continuity is important and even players like Christian Kirksey, who played in Mike Pettine's system before, will have a bit of an advantage. The larger practice squads should help and I'm sure at various points during the season, some players will test positive and be placed on a reserve list as a result. Thanks for commenting, always good to hear from you.

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GilMartin's picture

August 13, 2020 at 02:53 pm

I think coaches who respond better to these challenges will give their teams an advantage. It will be interesting to see how LaFleur and company handle this. Thanks for the comment, noworries1861.

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Lphill's picture

August 13, 2020 at 02:13 pm

Maybe the new kneeling drill will help them get in shape , I think Nagler is the new kneeling coach.

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Lare's picture

August 13, 2020 at 02:42 pm

How sad to have nothing but negativity and hate in your life.

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13TimeChamps's picture

August 13, 2020 at 02:44 pm

Good lord...do you EVER give it a break?

Is there any way CHTV can block this clown? I'm all for free speech, but there's limits to what people can put up with.

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Lphill's picture

August 13, 2020 at 07:54 pm

You ever hear of stolen valor ? They should be alerted about you .

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13TimeChamps's picture

August 13, 2020 at 09:01 pm

Throwing out completely false/unsubstantiated accusations about anyone who disagrees with him. Remind you of anyone?

Please feel free to back up that claim with just one fact. I'll wait.

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13TimeChamps's picture

August 13, 2020 at 10:43 pm

I'm still waiting. You were man enough to accuse me of something only an actual veteran would be totally offended with. Be a man and back it up with facts.

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fastmoving's picture

August 13, 2020 at 04:13 pm

Lphill only likes loooosers. But just the real bad ones.
And he is afraid of kneeling and change for the better anyway.
From here it only gets worse for him I guess......

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Lphill's picture

August 13, 2020 at 07:52 pm

I only like losers but I’m a Packers fan? I probably have a Packers memorabilia collection unmatched by anyone else here , I’m probably the biggest fan here , Been to Favres induction and Jerry Kramer’s and have a personal video of Brett on my Facebook page yet some of you think I’m always negative about the Packers , I’m actually negative about the fans not the team.

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splitpea1's picture

August 13, 2020 at 03:30 pm

I think you're underestimating the ability of a few of these players to contribute, at least in a limited sense. It probably won't take Dillon long to see the field, for example. Deguara has a lot to absorb, but MLF will probably want to get him in there at least for some blocking. And most of the second and third-year players you mentioned do have some experience--they'll be getting their reps during the games. Gary: Damn the torpedoes and get him in there!--we'll need him to spell relief for the Smiths, among other things.

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13TimeChamps's picture

August 13, 2020 at 03:36 pm

I agree that Dillon could really hit the ground running, both literally and figuratively. I think both he and Deguara are going to bring some welcomed smash mouth nasty to this offense.

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GilMartin's picture

August 13, 2020 at 03:43 pm

The beauty of running backs is that they can step in as rookies at least as runners, without too much adjustment. The key for Dillon is can he pick up the pass blocking and receiving responsibilities that go with the position. Deguara may be able to block more than anything else at least early in the season. Should be interesting. Thanks as always for commenting, 13TimeChamps.

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splitpea1's picture

August 13, 2020 at 06:18 pm

I would like to see it especially on third-and-manageable and deep in the red zone. All that fiddling around on the goal line in the Eagles game...maybe next time we'll be able to use the more direct approach or at least create an easier conversion off of the threat.

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GilMartin's picture

August 13, 2020 at 06:53 pm

The more ways you have to score from in close, the more successful you're likely to be. I can definitely see that role as part of what Dillon and Deguara do this year. I wonder how that will effect the fantasy football value of Aaron Jones and Aaron Rodgers?

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splitpea1's picture

August 13, 2020 at 08:09 pm

I don't know; I can't see all those little numbers on the bottom of my 13-inch TV screen anyway. Before you laugh at my tiny TV, consider that it handily survived being slammed into the floor and kicked into the wall after the Fail Mary game. And it only left a small indentation in the drywall which was easily repaired.

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GilMartin's picture

August 13, 2020 at 08:26 pm

Impressive

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gkarl's picture

August 14, 2020 at 07:21 am

They just don't make tv's like they use to. LOL

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jannes bjornson's picture

August 13, 2020 at 09:46 pm

He has speed to the outside w/ plant and cut, similar to Dorsey Levens.

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PeteK's picture

August 13, 2020 at 06:50 pm

Yes, I am looking forward to Dillon, Sternberger, Deguera. Those well designed and blocked running plays are poetry in motion!

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GilMartin's picture

August 13, 2020 at 08:27 pm

I love when the Packers can run and the opponent can't stop them. It's so fun to watch when you're team seems to be in complete control of the line of scrimmage. Thanks for the comment, PeteK.

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GilMartin's picture

August 13, 2020 at 03:42 pm

I think you're right about having rookies contributing in a limited sense. Basically, find the one thing they do really well and put them on the field when they're in a position to do that. I wonder what if any affect this will have on their long term development but that's another article for another day. Also agree re: Gary. Thanks for commenting splitpea1

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Tedlyflyfisher's picture

August 13, 2020 at 03:57 pm

As long as we can have cardboard cutouts of fans in the seats at Lambeau, we will have a decided home field advantage in 2020. No, I’m not being serious. And quit calling me Shirley.

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GilMartin's picture

August 13, 2020 at 06:54 pm

LOL. Thanks for the comment, Shirley, er Tedlyflyfisher. I wonder if they'll pump in crowd noise as well.

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jannes bjornson's picture

August 13, 2020 at 09:47 pm

Polka music.

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