Training Camp Kickoff - That’s What Cheese Said

Hear from Brian Gutekunst, Matt LaFleur, Aaron Rodgers, Kenny Clark, and Davante Adams as the Packers report back to 1265 Lombardi Ave. 

If there’s one takeaway from the press conferences and player interviews that took place the last few days, it’s that Aaron Rodgers is done dealing in hypotheticals. Hypotheticals about where he finishes his career, what the NFL season will look like amidst a national pandemic. He wants nothing to do with it. And who can blame him? 

In addition to Rodgers, players Kenny Clark and Davante Adams, General Manager Brian Gutekunst, and Head Coach Matt LaFleur were also made available to the media. Naturally, a recurring theme from each Zoom call was how the team is handling preparing for the season with COVID-19 looming large. 

“Being around one another, these guys, you can feel the urgency,” said LaFleur. “These guys definitely missed each other, they care about each other, and they miss football.”

“Everyone is just excited to be around football again,” echoed Gutekunst. 

Rodgers expressed feelings of uncertainty regarding what the season will look like, but said he’s “comfortable with the rules and protocols in place” when it comes to feeling safe at Lambeau Field preparing for the season. 

“I think there’s a lot of unknowns around this,” Rodgers said when asked about the possibility of starting a season and not being able to finish it. “At this point, all we can do is try and educate guys. Try and be smart about what you’re doing outside the facility.” 

He added that there’s some things within players’ control and some things outside of players’ control, but accountability and personal responsibility from the players will be paramount to the team’s success. 

Clark, a leader on the defensive side of the ball, shared similar sentiments. 

“If we want to continue to play, if we want to have a chance to have everybody available and have a chance to compete for a Super Bowl, then we’re going to have to live through those guidelines,” he said. “Whoever handles the situation the best is most-likely going to be there at the end to compete for a championship.”

He mentioned the regular testing taking place at Lambeau, the mandated masks, and that there’s sanitizer everywhere now to ensure guys stay healthy and ready to play. 

Whether it was the players, Gutekunst, or LaFleur, everyone was quick to give credit to the people that have been working since the pandemic started to put safety protocols in place and work diligently to make sure everyone returning to the stadium feels safe in the environment. 

Right now, only receiver Devin Funchess has opted out of the 2020 season, but Rodgers, Clark, and Adams all expressed their understanding as to why players are making these difficult decisions. 

“I did not consider it,” Rodgers said when asked if he personally thought about opting out. “I was always going to play.”

Both Rodgers did say Funchess had called him before his decision went public and that Rodgers respected the choice he made. Adams and Rodgers also both mentioned new father Geronimo Allison who opted out of his season with the Detroit Lions. 

“Life is about more than football,” Adams said.

For Clark, he felt he was able to make the decision to play football thanks to the fortunate situation his family is in. His family is healthy. His girlfriend is healthy. He’s healthy. So that’s why he decided to play. But he said he did understand that everyone’s situation is different. 

Adams also cited his personal legacy and how he wants to be remembered as one of the reasons he chose to play the season. 

“I love the game. I love my teammates. I’ve put a lot into this,” he said. “I think about my legacy when it’s all said and done.”

Still, with the only veteran addition to the wide receiver room opting out of the season, all eyes are on the remaining players in the room to take the snaps Funchess leaves behind. 

“We’re expecting everybody to step up,” LaFleur said. “It’s going to be great to get EQ back in the fold. That certainly hurt us last year.”

With Funchess opting out, and the expectations that Allen Lazard would enter the season as WR2 behind Adams, Equanimeous St. Brown should see plenty of snaps as the third wide receiver in 11 personnel this season. 

Adams heaped praise onto Lazard and the work he’s put in to be successful, then also added he’s looking forward to seeing what Jake Kumerow can do and how Marquez Valdes-Scantling is poised for a bounce-back season in 2020. 

And the same shock most fans felt during the draft, the players felt, too, with Adams saying he thought the Packers would take a wide receiver on draft night. Instead, as we all know, Green Bay took its quarterback of the future in Jordan Love, and Adams had plenty to say about that, too.

“I don’t think that it’ll have any type of affect on him,” said Adams on what the drafting of Love might do to Rodgers. “He’s just going to be Aaron.”

Adams said he and Rodgers have similar mindsets where they already work hard and push themselves so they aren’t necessarily motivated by other players at their positions. 

“Like, I don’t care if they brought in Julio Jones in here,” Adams added. “That’s not necessarily gonna make me work harder because I’m already a workhorse and I already know that i’m trying to be better than what I was last year.”

But Adams did point out the graphic he saw from NFL Research about what happens anytime Rodgers falls out of the top 10 in the NFL Top 100. The last two times it’s happened, Rodgers has gone on to win MVP the next season. 

LaFleur also reiterated the team’s commitment to keeping Rodgers in Green Bay long term, despite the selection of Love on draft night. 

“I think right now, most importantly, Aaron’s our quarterback, and I see him here for a really long time,” he said. “And however long that is, I don’t think anybody knows. Nothing is guaranteed in this league, but I feel so lucky to be able to work with him on a daily basis and I don’t see that changing for a really long time.”

Rodgers isn’t oblivious to the conversations that have taken place this entire offseason in regards to what his future holds as a Packer, either. But again, that’s a hypothetical, and Rodgers isn’t dealing in hypotheticals. 

“I think if I retire on the team’s timeline, then all is well. But if they’re ready to move on before I’m ready to be done playing, then there comes an impasse at that point. I can control my play and my performance, my approach and my leadership, but at some point there’s other factors involved,” he said. 

Whatever happens down the line, Rodgers knows he’s still in control of at least this next season. “I savor every moment every season. I know I can control this year, and my play, and my approach, and my attitude.” 

Another player in control of his own destiny is Clark, who said he focuses on his on-field play and lets his agent worry about his contract negotiations. Though he did add that not being in the NFL Top 100 “messes with my mind” from a respect standpoint. Add Clark to the list of Packers playing with a chip on his shoulder in 2020. 

Even as the team prepares for a new season, Clark was still asked about the defense’s performance in the NFC Championship Game and how the 49ers were able to run the ball so fluidly. 

He responded thoughtfully that there were stretches where the defense was dominant against the run, and it comes down to players (himself included) being more consistent, but he’s confident in the players they have in the room already. One player in particular being Kingsley Keke, who Clark said is poised for a bigger role on defense this season. 

“He has a lot of potential to be a great rusher,” Clark said of the second-year lineman. “He can stop the run, he can be a really good rusher. He’s really athletic, has a lot of ability.”

“I think our scheme is great,” Clark added. “Coach [Pettine] puts us in a lot of situations where we can win one-on-ones in the run and the pass. We’ve just gotta capitalize. It’s going to take a mentality, it’s going to take guys playing with great technique.” 

On the opposite side of the line, LaFleur and Gutekunst both discussed the open competition taking place along the right side of the offensive line. Lane Taylor, Billy Turner, free agent acquisition Ricky Wagner, and a bevy of draft picks will all be competing in training camp for starting roles along the offensive line. 

LaFleur expressed confidence in Turner’s ability to play anywhere on the line, calling the starting lineup a work-in-progress as they try to determine which players make the most cohesive starting five. 

“I like the flexibility of our group,” Gutekunst said, specifically noting that a number of players in the room beyond Turner can line up at either guard or tackle. 

Gutekunst also made mention of the fact that without preseason games to evaluate the roster, the staff will have to rely on other means of talent evaluation when it comes to the team’s own roster and the other 31 squads. 

“It’s a little bit different year since there’s not going to be preseason games to evaluate, so I think we’re going to have to heavily rely on a lot of other ways to evaluate, players on other teams and the players that are available through the waiver wire and other means,” said Gutekunst. He also made sure to add that at this point, there’s no updates on a potential Tramon Williams return. 

On both sides of the ball, players are wondering what empty stadiums will do for the flow of the game.

“It really is going to be interesting to see how that affects those road teams going into those environments, us as well, starting the season in Minnesota. How it affects the communication,” Rodgers said, hypothesizing whether or not teams might pump in crowd noise or music. These are all variables no one is sure of quite yet.

As for the defense, Clark wondered what a silent stadium might do for the offense’s cadence.

The topic of social injustice also came up, with players emphasizing that the issue isn’t going away in the NFL anytime soon. While there are no specifics yet as to what types of public displays of support the Packers might make, it’s something that’s been discussed in the locker room and that players feel strongly about. Clark and Adams both expressed their appreciation for the support they’ve received from the organization, despite the conversations not always being the easiest. The leadership, coaches, and players are all in alignment that the team will be publicly challenging social injustices moving forward, with the team’s initial response coming in June with the powerful “Enough is enough, it’s time for change” video. Since then, the Packers have donated to a number of organizations combating injustice, and players have taken to their own communities in an effort to enact change. 

As the players and coaches come to terms with what’s been the most unique offseason to date, LaFleur knows the team has to be “ready to adjust at a moment’s notice” when it comes to safety protocols and fielding a full roster moving forward. With no preseason games to give players a regular season feel, LaFleur added that the team might organize a few scrimmages inside Lambeau so younger players can have a stadium experience before the regular season begins. 

“Once we get to football and we’re watching practice, evaluating practice and getting ready for games, I think everyone will start to feel a little more normal,” Gutekunst said, citing how different this season feels without standard, cherished traditions like players riding bikes to practice each day. 

“I can say personally it’ll be very strange and sad to not see a full Lambeau every Sunday at home,” said Rodgers. “That’s going to be a little bit weird.”

However the season begins, it sure won’t look like anything we’re used to seeing, especially as fans of a team with such a rich, storied history. 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV, podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said, and hosts a weekly live show called Happy Hour through Game On Wisconsin. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (5)

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PackEyedOptimist's picture

August 05, 2020 at 05:43 am

Nice job on this kick-off article, Maggie!

Much like this Covid-19 season, we never know what is going to happen in life, but the pandemic (just like other unexpected deaths, relationship ends, etc.) is making that fragility harder to ignore. Tootie Robbins death from this Coronavirus certainly brings it home.

It's good to see the players and staff making mature comments about it all.

I was interested in the comments about ESB, as I've been thinking he is the X-factor at WR.
I see him as the biggest competition for WR 2. McCarthy had started using him more as a big slot, and if he can pick up where he left off, the Packers really didn't need to pick a WR in the draft.

I'm really going to (already do) miss watching training camp live, and seeing the new guys in pre-season games. I'm especially disappointed that I won't get to see AJ Dillon against second-string defenders; it's the one time you can see a young player's potential, as playing against veterans is an unfair gauge. We also probably won't get to see our 1st round pick AT ALL. :(

Fingers crossed that we get at least SOME of this season.

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Turophile's picture

August 05, 2020 at 07:03 am

I'd pick MVS as the x factor at WR over ESB, but either choice is equally valid.

There was talk about MVS playing in the slot, though I thought that position fitted ESB better.

It is unusual to have guys as big as MVS or ESB at the slot position, traditionally you have a smaller elusive guy like Cobb to play there. MVS is faster (a ridiculous 4.37 40 time, at 6'4"), St.Brown is an inch taller, almost 10lb heavier and given who ESB's father is, he is probably stronger than MVS. Both, given their sizes (6'4", 6'5") are quick enough to play WR2 if that is what you want.

One thing you can be sure of is that Lazard, MVS and ESB will all be doing their utmost to get the maximum number of snaps in game-time. Equally the TEs Sternberger and rookie Deguara will also be looking for action in both single and (I suspect) frequent 2xTE sets.

Given who was drafted early this year it is difficult to assess how often the Packers will be in 21 or 12 formations (21 = 2xRBs, 1xTE) (12 = 1xRB, 2xTE) (11 = 1xRB, 1xTE).

For those that haven't seen this description before, assume that of the 11 on the field 5 are OL and 1 is a QB (making 6 players), then you are adding the number of RBs and TEs in the designated formation. The rest of the players that make up the 11 are all WRs.

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Handsback's picture

August 05, 2020 at 08:16 am

Focus will be the key, as well as staying healthy.

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Packers2020's picture

August 05, 2020 at 09:03 am

I find it interesting that everyone thinks ESB is just going to step in and take over at WR. The guy has not played in over a year and barely did anything when he was on the field. Yes, he made a few plays but he never showed that he can be a #2 WR. After this injury he will be lucky to be #3 or #4. Oh and he is also a 6th round pick.

Again, not trying to be negative. Just trying to be realistic, especially after a guy has been out with an injury for a year. It usually takes a half a year of playing before they are back to normal again.

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Archie's picture

August 05, 2020 at 02:36 pm

Maggie & Perri rock!

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