GREEN BAY – The Packers were back on Ray Nitschke Field on Thursday for a fully padded practice.
Here are five things we learned:
1. The three-headed competition at guard isn't getting decided anytime soon.
With Pro Bowler Elgton Jenkins filling in for David Bakhtiari at left tackle, the Packers began rotating Lucas Patrick, Jon Runyan and Ben Braden at the two guard spots with the No. 1 offensive line on the first day of practice.
That rotation hasn't stopped, so it may be a while before the team settles on its top two guards not named Jenkins.
Of the three candidates, Braden would be considered the underdog, having bounced around different teams through two years and spending most of last season on Green Bay's practice squad. But the massive (6-6, 329) Michigan alum made a strong impression during the spring and is pushing the others.
Patrick has the most experience, having started all but one game last year to boost his career total to 23 starts, including playoffs. But as a player who came to the Packers initially as a tryout guy during rookie orientation five years ago, he takes nothing for granted.
"My mental approach is I love competition," Patrick said. "To speak as frankly as I can, I think the NFL is awesome because you have a healthy fear for your job.
"I've had that mentality since Day 1. It doesn't matter if I've started 100 games or zero games, I'm going to approach it the same. Competition to me, I think everyone rises, or the best person will come out of that."
Runyan, a sixth-round draft pick last year, is now in his second season at guard after playing primarily tackle in college at Michigan, and he was forced to get comfortable with the transition quickly.
In last year's opener, Runyan was active on the game-day 46 and with no preseason under his belt got thrown in when injuries struck.
"I was really impressed with that because when you're the eighth lineman or whatever, you're not anticipating necessarily playing in that game," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "The one thing that you learn about somebody like that is it's not too big for him."
Runyan had other fill-in duty at guard as the season progressed, but he has yet to start a game in the NFL. He feels at home on the interior now (he's taking backup center reps as well, along with Patrick) and last year's baptism by fire certainly contributed to his comfort level.
"Definitely after the first game, and then I got in a little Week 2 against the Lions, that set me up pretty well and I felt comfortable anytime my number was called, going in there," Runyan said. "I think definitely after Week 2, I really started feeling comfortable at guard, left and right side."
2. Jordan Love got locked in on a favorite receiver with the No. 2 offense.
During 11-on-11 work, Love fired plenty of passes in Reggie Begelton's direction, and the former CFL standout hauled in his share. A tight throw and catch in traffic on a crossing route over the middle was the most impressive.
In two-minute, Love tried to take a shot deep downfield to Begelton on third-and-long, but rookie safety Christian Uphoff intercepted it.
"He was going over the top, I thought he was going to sit it down, but we were just on different pages right there," Love said. "We'll get on the same page."
3. Defensive players constantly jabbing and poking at the ball is no accident.
New defensive coordinator Joe Barry continues to focus on getting the ball, so much so that anytime one is on the ground, a defender is picking it up and running the other way.
"That's something that we talk about each and every day that we drill, constantly wanting those guys to punch at the football," LaFleur said. "We call it punch-hammer-rake. So that is definitely a point of emphasis."
The Packers ranked seventh in the league last year with a plus-7 turnover margin, but that was mostly due to the offense turning the ball over a league-low 11 times. The defense's 18 takeaways were the lowest of any team ranked in the top 20 in turnover margin in 2020.
4. Aaron Rodgers can only summon his Hail Mary magic when it counts.
Rodgers had to resort to a Hail Mary on the final play of his two-minute drive, and his long, high heave was brought in by cornerback Jaire Alexander for his second interception of Rodgers in as many padded practices.
Alexander also picked off Rodgers on Tuesday.
5. Family Night will feel a bit more special this year.
The Packers had to forego the annual tradition last year, so Saturday night's practice inside Lambeau Field will take on some added meaning. It'll be the biggest crowd at Lambeau since the playoff victory over Seattle on Jan. 12, 2020.
"The longer you stick around, the bigger you realize that night is," said Patrick, referencing all the fans who don't have the opportunity to get regular-season game tickets and treat Family Night as a spectator spectacle. "I feel a sense of ownership to put on a show for them, let them really experience what Lambeau is, because … not a lot of stadiums have the juice that we have here."
LaFleur indicated there will be some live tackling during a developmental period for young players toward the end of the workout.
"It's almost like their first preseason game, and that's how we're going to treat it," he said.