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5 things learned on Tuesday at the 2024 NFL Annual Meeting

Notes on hybrid kickoff return, Packers’ backfield and Christian Watson

CB Keisean Nixon
CB Keisean Nixon

ORLANDO – Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur and President/CEO Mark Murphy addressed the media on Tuesday at the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando. Here are five things we learned:

  1. Keisean Nixon got his wish.

On Tuesday, NFL owners approved the new hybrid kickoff on a one-year trial basis.

All kicks must either be caught or fall inside the 20-yard line, called the "landing zone." If a kick first touches the ground inside the end zone, the ball will be placed at the 30-yard line.

If it falls before the landing zone, the ball will be placed at the 40 like it would be if kicked out of bounds. The ball will be placed at the 20-yard line if it lands first in the field of play and bounces into the end zone without a return.

The NFL's intention is to bring the two teams closer together, which will reduce the speed of the play and promote more returns. There also will be no fair catches permitted this season.

Nixon, the Packers' two-time first-team All-Pro kick returner, posted on X last week: "Go Ahead And Approve That KR Rule And Ima Go Back to Back to Back…"

The fifth-year veteran, who re-signed with Green Bay on March 15, led the NFL in kickoff return yardage (782) and kickoff return average (26.1) last season. Prior to the proposal's approval, LaFleur said he didn't want to see the kickoff go away and expressed his excitement about Nixon's playmaking potential.

"I don't know what football would be without it? You definitely want it to be part of the game," LaFleur said. "Certainly, when you have a returner as dynamic as Keisean, the more opportunities he can get to return, I think it could set us up. Now, it's just not only on Keisean. You gotta have the guys in front of him making the blocks and setting it up in that regard."

The Packers were one of three teams that voted against the proposal. Murphy said that was because of the organization's desire for the trial run to happen during the preseason instead.

"Our thought was it would make sense really to have maybe as a trial or as an experiment in the preseason to see – there's gonna be some unintended consequences," Murphy said. "But that said, it passed. … We'll be very supportive of it and we have one of the better kick returners in the league, so we'll put that to our advantage."

  1. Rich Bisaccia gave a strong recommendation for new Packers running back Josh Jacobs.

Green Bay's special teams coordinator/assistant head coach worked closely with Jacobs for three seasons with the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders, including a 2021 stint as the team's interim head coach. When Jacobs emerged as a possible free-agent target, Bisaccia offered a glowing review of the Raiders' former team captain.

"Rich definitely spoke highly of him," LaFleur said. "I think anytime that you have a coach on staff that's been on another team with a player like that, you're always interested in hearing what they have to say about him. He raved about the person, the player, the worker."

Jacobs has been a bell cow throughout his first five NFL seasons, averaging approximately 300 touches per season. The Packers still like having multiple backfield options, but LaFleur believes Jacobs' versatile skill set will fit well into Green Bay's offense.

"The first thing that jumps off to me is just his play style. He is tough, hard-nosed," LaFleur said. "He can be a high-volume guy. Just studying him, I think there's more out there for him in regards to the passing game, using him out of the backfield. He's put some really good choice routes on tape. That's something we always try to get to. We've done it a little bit more down in the red area. But I love the person, just being around him in that brief time when he came into Green Bay."

  1. Packers are counting on Jordan Love's leadership next season.

Aaron Jones' departure not only leaves big shoes to fill on the field but also in the locker room. With nobody older than 28 years old on the offensive side of the ball, LaFleur said he's already spoken with Love about assuming a greater leadership role in 2024.

"Naturally somebody's going to have to step up," LaFleur said. "I talked to Jordan about this a little bit; he's got a year under his belt as the starter, now I expect more out of him. I think we all do. I think he expects it out of himself, which is great. Guys like him are going to have to shoulder some of that leadership moving forward."

  1. The Packers gathered more data on Christian Watson's and Eric Stokes' soft-tissue injuries this offseason.

Green Bay feels it has a better grasp of where Watson and Stokes stand after the two players to underwent body scans at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with the hope of preventing future flareups.

Stokes played in just three games last year due to lingering hamstring issues while Watson has battled hamstring injuries throughout his first two NFL seasons. The 6-foot-4, 208-pound receiver missed eight games in 2023, playing just 446 offensive snaps.

"We did a full scan of (Watson) and sent him down to Madison," LaFleur said. "They got some special lab there. All the medical guys can give you the better diagnosis on him, but yeah, we looked at a lot of different things in terms of just his body comp and maybe areas that were stronger than others to try to help get us in front of that."

  1. Developing coaches is an integral part of what LaFleur is building in Green Bay.

The Packers' offense underwent a significant change two years ago when Denver hired Nathaniel Hackett as head coach and Luke Getsy left to become the offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears, causing a ripple effect on LaFleur's staff.

While happy for his coaches' professional growth, LaFleur has had to be diligent in developing future coordinators and position coaches on his current staff. The most recent example of that is offensive line coach Adam Stenavich graduating to offensive coordinator and Jason Vrable's ascent from an offensive assistant to pass-game coordinator over the past five years.

To keep young coaches in the pipeline, Green Bay promoted Ryan Mahaffey to receivers coach this offseason, tabbed Sean Mannion to work with Tom Clements in the quarterbacks room and hired former Packers receiver Myles White as a coaching assistant.

Mahaffey spent the past three seasons as an offensive quality control coach, most recently assisting Luke Butkus and the Packers' offensive line.

"First of all, I think Jason Vrable, he's ready to be a coordinator," LaFleur said. "I'm trying to brace for what I think is to come. Just like I think Steno should start to get some opportunities at a head-coaching position. Just trying to make sure that we're supported in all those areas, and we have people in the bullpen ready to go. I think Vrable is a phenomenal teacher. He's still gonna be heavily involved in that room but I wanted him to teach Mahaffey that position. I think Ryan's got a well-rounded background. … I think he's got a bright future as well and I wanted people in that room to be ready to roll."