Intensity ramps up at end of Packers' first practice

Training camp begins with the defense ahead of the offense

QB Aaron Rodgers
QB Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY – Matt LaFleur made sure his first practice as head coach of the Packers ended with the right spirit on Thursday.

Just before the final 11-on-11 period with a series of goal-to-go plays, LaFleur called the entire team together in the center of Ray Nitschke Field to deliver a message.

"We're about competition, and that last period was a competition," LaFleur said. "It was third-down-and-goal, and you either win or you lose. We had nine cracks at it. I thought it amped up the energy a little bit. It was encouraging."

With the intensity where LaFleur wanted it, the defense came away the winner on Day 1, though there were some close calls.

Tight end Jimmy Graham may have been interfered with in the end zone on one snap, and wide receiver Jake Kumerow may or may not have hauled in a tough sliding catch at the goal line.

There was no doubt, however, that linebacker Blake Martinez stepped in front of an Aaron Rodgers slant pass for an interception, and the defense quickly followed with another pick, as linebacker Kyler Fackrell made an almost carbon-copy play against QB Tim Boyle.

Rodgers admitted he never saw Martinez on his play, and he complimented him on his hands, being able to snag a ball with some legitimate velocity.

"It's just one of those plays where I did what I was supposed to do and, the next thing I know I was like, 'Wait, this thing's coming right at me. I guess I should pick it off,'" Martinez said.

The offense didn't get shut out, though. Rodgers found running back Jamaal Williams open for an easy score, and DeShone Kizer beat a blitz with a quick flip that fullback Danny Vitale slid to catch before popping up and scoring.

Still, it's fair to say the defense is starting ahead of the offense, which is to be expected with coordinator Mike Pettine in his second year running the defense and LaFleur in his first with his scheme. Rodgers noted the defense's emphasis on taking the ball away more is evident.

"I think they're playing faster. I think they played fast today," Rodgers said. "I think Blake is very comfortable as kind of the quarterback of the defense. We've brought in a lot of maturity in that group. It's just a different feel on that side of the ball. I feel like there's a little more juice."

On the injury front, four players are on the opening list. Cornerback Josh Jackson (foot), kicker Mason Crosby (calf) and safety Darnell Savage (tooth) didn't practice, while running back Dexter Williams (illness) dropped out.

As far as the depth chart goes, Raven Greene took Savage's place at safety on the No. 1 defense, with Montravius Adams up front in the base package (alongside Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry) following the release of Mike Daniels.

One noticeable difference on offense for the early stages of camp was the variety of different receivers getting snaps with Rodgers and the No. 1 unit. Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison certainly took their share, but Kumerow, Trevor Davis and Equanimeous St. Brown worked in as well. Even undrafted rookie Darrius Shepherd took some reps with Rodgers.

LaFleur said he'd like to see as many receivers as possible develop some continuity with Rodgers, and he acknowledged dividing up the reps also helps to save receivers' legs as camp wears on. Rodgers saw it as a sign the competition at the receiver position is just getting started.

"I think there's a lot of guys they're looking at. I think the receiver room is fairly wide open," he said. "There's a ton of opportunities."

There also will be ample opportunity for the offense to employ different personnel groups and get a feel for what works best, a process Rodgers said will take time but will naturally sort itself out as the offense goes from practicing against its own defense, to the Houston Texans' defense, to the preseason games.

As camp progresses, Rodgers also will gain a better big-picture feel for some of LaFleur's offensive concepts. Right now, Rodgers is often asking for the rationale behind a particular scheme, and LaFleur explains it by showing several film clips, and it helps.

"I'm a visual learner in that sense," Rodgers said. "I can figure it out on paper and I'm fine with that, but I like to see it as well and it helps me lock it into my brain. So the more questions I ask the more film he shows, the better I feel about the concepts, the better he feels knowing I'm confident in what we're doing and that's how the relationship grows.

"I feel great about the communication. He's in every meeting. We spend time one-on-one talking about stuff. He's the main voice in the offensive room but he really appreciates open conversation and ideas and creativity. It's been a great relationship, a great start to it, and I look forward to that growing and getting into that rhythm with him as a play-caller."

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