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10 things learned at the NFL Scouting Combine – Day 1

Packers are again planning to host a team for joint practices during training camp

GM Brian Gutekunst, Head Coach Matt LaFleur
GM Brian Gutekunst, Head Coach Matt LaFleur

INDIANAPOLIS – Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur and Brian Gutekunst addressed the media on Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, while the availability with offensive prospects also began.

Here are 10 things learned Tuesday in Indianapolis:

1. The Packers are planning to host another NFL team for joint practices this summer…but not saying which team quite yet.

The Packers will host joint practices again during training camp in 2020 – but LaFleur isn't tipping his hand as to which NFL team will be traveling to Green Bay.

"We have a team but I don't know if I can tell you yet," LaFleur said. "I have to make sure (with the) league."

The Packers welcomed the Houston Texans to town last August, the first time since 2005 the Packers have hosted another team for practices during training camp.

The teams practiced twice leading up to their preseason opener at Lambeau Field. The Texans started practice on Clarke Hinkle Field before joining the Packers on Ray Nitschke Field on the east side of the Don Hutson Center for the joint portion.

"It's good to change the scenery a little bit and go against a different scheme," LaFleur said. "It gives you somebody else to go against and tests those concepts against somebody else."

2. After laying the foundation in 2019, the Packers will look to "refine" a few things for 2020.

It's been four years since the last time LaFleur has had a chance to grow with an offense in Year 2, and the Packers' head coach believes this offseason will be beneficial for himself, the coaching staff and returning players.

Among things on a short to-do list is "refining" certain aspects of the offense, reviewing the schemes in all three phases and tailoring terminology to young players.

LaFleur said he and the entire staff have looked at everything from potentially adding gap schemes to the run game to the way they roll out their defensive coverages.

"I think a byproduct of the schemes that these college kids are coming from, there's not a lot of talking going on," LaFleur said regarding playbook terminology. "It might be all signals. The more we can shrink that verbiage, I think that'll allow our players to go out there and play.

"First of all, it'll get us in and out of the huddle a little bit faster and then go out there and play a little bit faster."

3. LaFleur would like to establish a third backfield threat…and it could be Tyler Ervin

Aaron Jones had a career-defining season. Jamaal Williams once again was a well-rounded and reliable playmaker. Together, they produced 2,271 total yards and 25 touchdowns in the regular season.

As productive as the two third-year running backs were in 2019, LaFleur still wouldn't mind adding one more established threat for another dimension to the offense and to lessen the dependency on the Jones-Williams duo.

It's become more and more prevalent for teams to invest in deep backfields. San Francisco, Kansas City and Baltimore all built their offenses on three or more running backs in 2019.

"I think that's one of the tougher positions to play in terms of physicality, and I think you always need multiple guys to get to that finish line," LaFleur said. "Certainly, we'd like to play one more game than we did last season, and we're going to need not only those two guys but I do think we're going to need a third guy to put into that mix moving forward."

It's possible that third option could be Tyler Ervin, who sparked both the offense and special teams after being claimed off waivers in early December. The 5-foot-10, 192-pound running back is slated to be an unrestricted free agent but LaFleur added: "If I have my way, yeah, I'd love to have him back."

"Tyler did a great job, not only from the return aspect," he said. "I felt like that's where our special teams started to take a turn for the better is when we picked him up. He is a versatile guy. We were able to play him a little bit more and more as the season progressed."

4. The Packers remain high on Oren Burks' upside.

The Packers' inside linebacker situation remains in flux with starters Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson both scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next month.

However that situation resolves itself, the Packers remain high on 2018 third-round pick Oren Burks, who has started only four of his 26 games played through his first two seasons.

The 6-foot-3, 233-pound linebacker had been the frontrunner to start opposite Martinez each of the last two offseasons before suffering shoulder and chest injuries during the 2018 and 2019 training camps, respectively.

The Packers also are scheduled return second-year linebackers Curtis Bolton and Ty Summers. Bolton made a convincing argument to win a starting job in Burks' absence before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in a preseason game vs. Oakland.

Summers, a seventh-round pick out of TCU, played exclusively on special teams as a rookie. He led the unit with 311 snaps played.

"I feel really good about Oren (Burks). He's got to stay healthy, but I think he has all the talent in the world to be a productive player for us," Gutekunst said. "I think Ty Summers did a really, really nice job, not only on special teams but how he developed as a linebacker as well. And then Curtis (Bolton), obviously, he had the knee injury, so really we didn't get a big opportunity to see him. But early on in training camp he was making some big strides."

5 & 6. The Packers are excited for what Jerry Gray will bring to the secondary…and are still planning to hire a receivers coach.

Earlier this month, LaFleur tabbed the longtime Minnesota Vikings assistant as the Packers' new secondary coach and he's been impressed by what he's seen.

Gray, 57, has twice served as a defensive coordinator (Buffalo, 2001-05, and Tennessee, 2011-13) and coached defensive backs in Tampa Bay, Washington, Seattle and for six years with the Vikings before coming to Green Bay.

"Just a calming veteran, confident … I think our players are going to be really receptive to him," LaFleur said. "He's been a coordinator in this league. He's just been around this league for such a long time. I think he's going to bring a lot of value to not only our defensive staff but our whole staff maybe and to our team."

Although the Packers have yet to hire a receivers coach, LaFleur still intends on doing so in the near future.

"I think it's more about fit," LaFleur said. "We've got a lot of guys that have a lot of experience. It's just trying to find the right fit, not only for our staff but for our players and for them to go out and perform at their best."

7. "There was never a doubt" Mike Pettine would be back.

In LaFleur's mind, there was never any question whether Pettine would return as the Packers' defensive coordinator in 2019.

Pettine, in his second year in Green Bay, welcomed two new pass rushers ( Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith) and two new safeties ( Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage) to a defense that ranked in the top 10 in scoring (19.6 points per game), red zone (50%) and takeaways (25).

"There was never a doubt," LaFleur said. "I'm not going to make a rash decision on one game (against San Francisco). I thought our defense did a lot of great things. Certainly, there's areas we have to improve upon, but it's not just defensively."

8. Allen Lazard help set the "blueprint" for young players.

In the span of six months, Allen Lazard went from being a casualty of final cuts to the Packers' No. 2 receiver.

The former undrafted free agent played exclusively on special teams the first five weeks before catching 35 passes for 477 yards and three TDs over the final 11 games of the season. He'll again contend for a starting job in 2020.

"Allen did a great job, man," LaFleur said. "He earned it. He earned it, every rep he got.

"I think that's kind of a good blueprint for young players coming in. You produce on special teams, you earn that trust from the coaching staff. He did that. Not only from the coaching staff but from our players, as well, and specifically our quarterback."'

9. Gutekunst doesn't put limitations on receiving prospects.

Historically, there have been some GMs and scouts who will take players off their draft board because they don't meet certain height and size requirements. Gutekunst isn't one of those individuals.

As the Packers GM delves into studying a deep receiver class, he's evaluating the whole player – not the just the measureables.

"I don't think we would not draft a player just because he wasn't tall enough," Gutekunst said. "We had Randall Cobb here who was a really good player for us for a long time. He certainly didn't meet some of the height requirements.

"It's truly about what they can do for our football team, and obviously with Matt's system there are some tweaks as far as what he does with the slot and stuff that may lend itself to different skill sets."

10. Quintez Cephus wouldn't mind playing in Green Bay.

Wisconsin wide receiver Quintez Cephus made it clear he would have no problem whatsoever staying in-state if the Packers choose to call his name in April.

"It would be amazing," said Cephus, a native of Macon, Ga., who caught 59 passes for 901 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019. "I know how to play in the cold weather. I know how to catch balls in the cold weather. It would be amazing to play up in Green Bay."

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