Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Touchdowns are nice, but Love knows mistakes bring growth
GREEN BAY – Jordan Love was in his groove as Tuesday's practice closed, reading the defense and delivering, slinging his passes the way his head coach pleaded him to do not long ago.
A toe-tapping touchdown to Christian Watson in the back of the end zone. A dart on the left sideline to Romeo Doubs. A needle through tight coverage to Samori Toure.
This was football without pads on a May afternoon at Ray Nitschke Field, which isn't really football. When the Green Bay Packers commenced their organized team activities this week, they took their classroom work to the grass. Love knows the real tests are coming, tests that will make or break his NFL career, but it didn't stop him from enjoying the hot streak as practice ended.
“I think that's always fun,” Love said, revealing a smile as he stood near his locker inside Lambeau Field. “Rather that than incomplete passes or something like that.”
Those little confidence boosters will be important for Love as he transitions to the top spot on the Packers quarterback depth chart, moving out of Aaron Rodgers' legendary shadow, but it isn't where he'll grow most. For a first-time starter, May is a month for mistakes. To push the boundaries for what is possible, so those barriers are clear once the snaps come this fall.
Love had plenty of those moments Tuesday, too. A deep ball down the middle of the field in triple coverage to Watson that cornerback Kiondre Thomas knocked away incomplete. A wide throw to Toure on an out route in the end zone, sailing the football out of bounds instead of converting an open touchdown. A floater linebacker De'Vondre Campbell almost intercepted. Before Love found his groove, he started practice with erratic incompletions that showed his youth.
It wasn't just Love. The Packers offense, almost entirely youth, was a mixture of errors and highlights in its second OTA session. Coach Matt LaFleur expected the inconsistencies, knowing Tuesday's practice was structured to emphasize red-zone installation, which usually favors the defense. He also knows those mistakes can be healthy for players just getting their NFL footing, even if no coach enjoys seeing them.
“I don't want to say more mistakes,” LaFleur said. “Yeah, absolutely, I think it's just human nature, you're going to learn more from your failures than your successes. I think that's just part of the process, and as long as you're not repeating those mistakes and you can see those incremental improvements, I think that's what you're looking for. Hopefully we get that each and every time we go out there.”
When LaFleur built his practice schedule for these OTAs, he included more unscripted periods rather than a regiment of predetermined plays, wanting to test his young players' knowledge and see how they respond to what isn't already instinctual. Love likened it to more of a game-like feel, something the Packers didn't do much in previous springs, but an approach that fits a roster that lacks game-like experience.
Love might not be the only young player in the Packers offense, but he's the quarterback. Everything he does will be heavily scrutinized. LaFleur said he's evaluating Love's entire operation this spring, his decision making, his timing and, of course, his throws. “Every play,” LaFleur said, “is dissected, or looked at under a microscope.” The key will be evaluating everyone else alongside the quarterback as the entire offense develops.
“I think there's a lot of good things,” LaFleur said, “and certainly a lot to clean up.”
Love isn't new to the installation phase of the Packers offseason. These are his fourth set of spring installations and, considering Rodgers' preference to miss this time of year entirely, Love isn't getting many more first-team reps now than in recent years. But he acknowledged this spring feels different.
He is the starter now, not an offseason placeholder. These installations are for him. As he elevates into this new role, Love will gladly take his touchdowns.
He knows the mistakes bring more growth.
“This is definitely the time to do that,” Love said. “Practice is the time to push the boundaries, test things. This is our second practice live, so the timing is a little off with everybody because we've been going routes versus air and things like that.
“So just kind of build that timing and get as many reps as we can, but we know it's not going to be perfect. We love when we can capitalize and score touchdowns, things like that, but just don't get down on ourselves when the play is not perfect or it goes off schedule, things don't work out as we want.”