GREEN BAY – The Packers' fifth practice of training camp took place Monday at Ray Nitschke Field.
Here are five things we learned:
1. Preston Smith has a simple goal for 2021.
"Not to have that season again," the veteran outside linebacker said, referring to his down year statistically in 2020. "To be better than I was last year."
Smith went from posting 12 sacks (14 including playoffs) in his first year with the Packers in 2019 to just four last year, due to multiple reasons.
For one, Smith was asked to drop into coverage more in 2020, duty that Kyler Fackrell handled in '19. But Fackrell departed as a free agent, while Rashan Gary's increased playing time also took snaps, and rushing opportunities, away from Smith.
But Smith's stated goal to not repeat last year is also a tacit acknowledgement he didn't play as well as he could have, and he came into camp this year in better shape, having focused on cardio work in the offseason.
"He understands. He knows what's in front of him and he's a pro," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "He's been doing this a long time, so I think he's put the work in and now he's got to go out there and just do it."
He's also fired up to be reunited with Joe Barry, who was Washington's defensive coordinator for Smith's first two years in the NFL (2015-16). While Smith will continue to do whatever he's asked in the scheme, he sounded on Monday like a guy expecting to be turned loose as a pass rusher more.
Thus far in camp, Smith and Gary have taken all the reps with the No. 1 defense while Za'Darius Smith remains out. The position took a hit on Monday when Randy Ramsey went down late in practice with a leg injury and had to be helped off the field.
"I feel like a lot of guys are going to shine in Joe's system," Preston said. "He knows what he's doing. He knows how to put his playmakers in position to make plays. That's why I love him so much."
Smith also loves this Packers team, which was a big reason he decided to accept a pay cut via a restructured, incentive-laden contract to come back after a lot of external speculation swirled his time in Green Bay might be over after the off year.
"We came so close this past year and the year before. We've been to two NFC championships," he said. "This is the farthest I've ever been in my career and I've been there twice – back-to-back years.
"I believe what we've got going around here. Everybody here believes the same thing: We can do it. We have a chance to do it."
2. Krys Barnes has matured in a hurry and reworked his body just as quickly.
An undrafted rookie from UCLA last year, Barnes earned a starting job at inside linebacker for Week 1 without playing any preseason games. Then he missed time on the COVID reserve list, returned to the starting lineup, and played in the postseason with a club on his hand to protect a broken thumb.
It was a whirlwind of sorts, but everything he went through is making it easier to learn Barry's scheme in Year 2 as he's begun camp as a starter again, alongside fellow inside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell.
"I had to grow up pretty fast," he said. "That whole feeling of not knowing what the NFL was last year, coming in this year having an idea of what it is and that experience, it's an easier transition learning a new defense and feeling like, 'OK, I can take a step back and breathe a little bit.'"
After reviewing his own film, Barnes felt he played last year too heavy, so he's lost about 10 pounds coming into his second season. He finished second on the team in tackles to safety Adrian Amos last year, adding a sack and forced fumble, and then led the squad in tackles in the playoffs.
"There's still things I have to (improve) upon," he said. "I'm nowhere near where I want to be."
3. Jordan Love recovered from a missed opportunity to make his best throw of camp so far.
In 11-on-11 work, the second-year QB had Malik Taylor open deep, but the ball fluttered out of his hand and was well underthrown. Taylor had to stop running and ultimately may have been interfered with, but regardless, the play didn't unfold as it should have.
Not long after that, however, Love rolled to his right and fired deep down the right sideline to an open Chris Blair for a long touchdown. The pass was sharp, with juice on it, and on the run.
Teammates and coaches have regularly praised Love for his steady demeanor, and he proved its value by bouncing back quickly to make the play of the day.
4. The Packers are approaching a 90% vaccination rate.
LaFleur revealed the team has 11 players who aren't vaccinated, out of the 89 on the current roster. That means 87.6% of the players are vaccinated.
"All we're going to do is continue to tell them what the protocols are and try to educate guys the best we can and give 'em the information," LaFleur said. "Then they have to make the decision for themselves."
5. Another step toward real football gets taken Tuesday.
The players are getting geared up for the pads to go on for the first time, because now they'll see who can really play this game and who can't.
"I like to call them T-shirt All-Americans, guys who shine better in jerseys than they would in pads, because you have to be a lot more physical in pads," Preston Smith said. "That's more where the game's catered to you being physical and trying to be dominant and impose your will on the other guy."
Added Marcedes Lewis: "That's when you really find out. That's where guys turn into dudes and you flourish."