GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Jordan Love made the right read. He saw Jace Sternberger down the left sideline with plenty of space between him and the deep defender. Instead of unloading a dart to the wide-open tight end, Love floated the ball. Yes, it landed in Sternberger’s hands for a nice gain but had the ball arrived on a line, it might have gone for a touchdown. Instead, the closing defender took Sternberger down.
It was only one play in one practice, but it was emblematic of where the Green Bay Packers’ first-round pick -- the potential heir apparent to future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers -- finds himself in his slow-moving transition to the NFL. Nine practices into his professional career, Love has shown equal parts touch and tentativeness on his throws.
"I just told him, ‘Hey, you can’t play hesitant; you can’t play tentative,’” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Tuesday after practice No. 9. “We tell the quarterbacks, ‘Indecisive equals ineffective.’ I know there’s a lot going through his mind right now, but sometimes you’ve just got to shut it off and let your instincts take over and really go out and rip the ball. That’s kind of the challenge to him right now.”
Heading into practice on Thursday, the Packers' 10th practice marks the start of the final stretch of four training camp practices before the transition to regular-season mode next week. Love hasn’t challenged Tim Boyle for the backup starting job, ensuring that general manager Brian Gutekunst will keep three quarterbacks on the roster.
And that’s just fine with the Packers, for now.
“That tells me he’s thinking too much and he’s struggling to find a rhythm,” said an offensive assistant with another team said when told of LaFleur’s comments. “Every position’s timing is just not the same right now. You can’t panic over this, it’s not fair.
“I don’t know if I’d start burying the guy the just yet. It doesn’t mean he’s not going to be a good player. I do trust Gutey’s eye; there’s a reason he picked him.”
In an ordinary year, Love would have been through a rookie minicamp, OTA practices, a mandatory minicamp, a month’s worth of training camp practices and two preseason games by now. This, however, is no ordinary year. All of that was wiped out save for the abbreviated training camp, which began in Green Bay with an Aug. 15 no-pads practice.
“I’d say the biggest thing lost would be reps,” Love said. “Throughout the whole summer just being on Zoom doing meetings and finally getting out here right now and then not having preseason games and whatnot, I would say reps is the biggest thing. But you’ve just got to find a way to learn on the go and be a great visual learner and being able to just go through plays in my head in the back when I’m not getting reps and just take mental reps.
Love has completed 24 of 43 passes (55.8%) during team (11-on-11) periods so far, not counting the so-called “young-guy period” that LaFleur has conducted with rookies, first- and some second-year players following the full practice.
The throw to Sternberger came in one such young-guy period on Tuesday. Later in the same period, one in which Love took every snap, he underthrew a fade to tight end Josiah Deguara and it was an easy interception for safety Vernon Scott near the goal line. In between, the closest thing anyone saw to Love firing a ball on a rope was a short cross to Malik Taylor.
“The tangible thing I think that everybody would want to see is just like a completion percentage or the ball moving up and down the field and moving the chains in practices when we get those type of opportunities in certain periods,” quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Luke Getsy said Wednesday. “But, for me, it’s just how I’m going to be measuring and how our organization is going to measure that progress is more of him being able to hear a call, being able to spit out a call in a huddle and then go confidently execute it.”
Getsy suggested that process improves for Love with every practice.
“We just gotta keep giving him these opportunities and then we’ll see what happens,” he said. “It’s just about growth every day. It’s just about getting a little bit better every day, a little bit more comfortable every single day. I’m not too worried about a completion percentage, the hard fact, I’m just not really worried about that right now. There’s just a bigger picture, not only for him but for all the guys.”
Fifteen years ago, Rodgers went through his rookie training camp with similarly uneven performances. But one thing Rodgers showed right away was his arm. Love, however, has not.
“He had a couple of clips at the combine where he fired it,” a former Packers scout said of Love.
That same former Packers scout recalled that being an every-practice experience for Rodgers.
“He was ripping the [expletive] ball,” the scout said. “He absorbed everything. Did it always look great in the [preseason] games? Not right away, but he absorbed it. And here’s the other thing, he had every record as a rookie in the quarterback drills, and it wasn’t close. Remember those ball drills where they’d spin it through their legs and around their body? He beat everyone and not just by one or two revolutions but by seven or eight.
“The only thing that was messed up was he put his body in bad positions sometimes and it looked like he was going to get hurt.”
Rodgers had the benefit of three full seasons before he became the starter, and perhaps Love will have several more offseasons to prepare himself for that same chance. Based on the way this summer has played out, that might be necessary.
“You can feel like he just needs more time to learn how to be able to play and go out there and play within the system,” offensive coordinator Nathan Hackett said. “And I think that’s kind of what sometimes you’re seeing is he gets that playcall, he gets up to the line, he gets everything and it’s like, ‘OK, now let’s play.’
“But sometimes it’s that instinct that’s got to take over, and I think that he’s not 100 percent sure at times. That’s why experience is so important, especially at that position. So the more practice that he can get, the more situations we can give him, the better he’ll be.”