5 things learned at Packers training camp – Aug. 23

Notes on Jordan Love, Za’Darius Smith

QB Jordan Love

GREEN BAY – The Packers held a closed, non-padded practice on Monday at Nitschke Field, the team's first workout since the conclusion of the second preseason game.

Here are five things we learned.

1. QB Jordan Love is back at practice, but not full-go yet.

Love sat out an entire week due to his shoulder injury and was back on the practice field doing only individual drills Monday. He did not take any 11-on-11 snaps and things are still day-to-day with him.

The Packers have two full-pads practices on Tuesday and Thursday sandwiched around a jog-through on Wednesday, so if Love continues to progress into 11-on-11 during the week, he'd be on track to play in the preseason finale Saturday at Buffalo.

"The majority of today's practice is dedicated to those guys that either didn't play much or didn't play at all (last Saturday)," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "Tomorrow will be really everybody involved. Then we'll taper back on Wednesday, then crank it back up on Thursday."

2. The first-team defense is getting healthier, but Za'Darius Smith remains out.

Among defensive regulars who had missed or been limited in 11-on-11 reps the past week, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Rashan Gary, Tyler Lancaster and Kevin King were all taking part Monday.

But Smith has not returned to practice, after getting on the field briefly last week and then being sidelined again. He has a back injury that is giving him trouble, and LaFleur acknowledged the issue could put Week 1 of the regular season in jeopardy for him. There's a lot of uncertainty right now.

"He's working through that," General Manager Brian Gutekunst said on Sunday of the injury. "It's a little bit day-to-day and we got him out there (last week) to see if he could get a good couple days, and then it just flared up on him again."

3. The rotation of interior offensive linemen hasn't stopped.

After the starting guards on Saturday night were Royce Newman (right) and Jon Runyan (left), the first snaps with the No. 1 offense Monday saw Newman on the left side and Lucas Patrick at right guard.

Then Runyan (right) and Ben Braden (left) rotated in as a pair, followed by Newman and Lucas Patrick coming back but switching sides from earlier in practice.

On top of that, rookie center Josh Myers departed during 11-on-11 work due to what appeared to be an equipment issue, with Runyan the first to step in as the backup center, an interesting choice given Patrick has more experience there.

So regarding who the starting guards will be Week 1 and how the depth chart will align at those interior spots: Stay tuned.

4. Rookie S Christian Uphoff had his eye on Green Bay if he went undrafted.

Uphoff was put in a tough spot come draft time, with Illinois State canceling its 2020 season due to the pandemic. Then when he ran at his pro day it was less than a month after pulling his hamstring, and it was a cold day to boot.

So while he still held out hope of getting drafted, he had a backup plan.

"Before the draft, me and my agent were talking and he was like, 'If you don't get drafted, where do you want to go?'" Uphoff said. "I was like, 'Green Bay.'

"I just knew Green Bay was a good place for undrafted free agents."

In a crowded reserve safety competition that includes fellow undrafted rookie Innis Gaines and second-year pros Vernon Scott (2020 seventh-round pick) and Henry Black (undrafted), the 6-3, 209-pound Uphoff is hanging right in the thick of it.

He's played a total of just 26 snaps on defense in the first two preseason games, less than Gaines and Black (Scott was injured last week). But he's made a solid impression over 18 special-teams snaps, including an impressive tackle on punt coverage last Saturday, beating two blockers to make the play.

That could earn him a longer look in Saturday's preseason finale at Buffalo.

"The first (game) I was pretty nervous and I didn't feel comfortable," he said. "But the second game, I got out there and I was thinking to myself, 'Dude, you're just playing a game, no reason to get all nervous,' so it was a lot more fun the second game, and I felt like I was playing a lot more freely."

5. Backup left tackle Yosh Nijman couldn't ask for a better chance to prove himself.

Nijman has played exactly 100 snaps through two preseason games, second on offense only to Braden's 101. The Packers are trying to find out if he can be reliable in a reserve role in his third year with the team. Another backup tackle, veteran Dennis Kelly, is currently injured.

The massive Nijman (6-7, 314) joined the Packers as an undrafted rookie in 2019 from Virginia Tech, spent most of that season on the practice squad, and then made the 53-man roster last year. But he played sparingly, only a few snaps late in games with the outcome decided, despite all the injuries and position shuffling amongst the unit.

Most of his work last year came on the scout team, and having to block Za'Darius and Preston Smith, along with Rashan Gary, in practice on a regular basis has helped him put together his best training camp so far.

He had one bad preseason play thus far, allowing the strip-sack that injured Love's shoulder, but otherwise he's been solid. LaFleur said he's "put himself in a pretty good position" with one preseason audition left.

"I kind of see it almost as if I'm playing a regular-season game," Nijman said. "Preparation's the same as if it was the regular season. Mindset's the same.

"I feel like I still have a lot more improvement to do."

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