GREEN BAY – The Packers' defense dialed up the pressure in Tuesday's practice, and Jordan Love stood in and delivered.
Green Bay's third-year backup quarterback made several impressive throws in the first full-pads workout of training camp, hitting Sammy Watkins on a deep over route, tight end Dominique Dafney down the seam, and rookie Romeo Doubs for a touchdown at the back pylon, to list a few.
Some of those throws were against a heavy blitz, with defenders right in his face, yet Love hung in the pocket and fired. He'll be the first to admit there were other hot reads or throws he'd like back, but the 2020 first-round draft pick also knows the pressure throws he did make were fewer and farther between during his first two years in Green Bay.
"I think it does show growth, just to be able to trust that I know where the receiver is going to be, with pressure in my face, and still try to slow it down a little bit to focus on where I need to put the ball," Love said after practice. "(Previously) I wasn't going to make those throws under pressure. I might just try to escape and throw the ball away. But being able to trust where the receiver is going to be, it comes down to that."
The passes to Watkins and Doubs were legitimate standout moments. The Watkins ball wasn't against pressure but was a play-action deep shot perfectly on target, hitting the veteran free agent in stride.
The Doubs play on the goal line came with the rush right in his face, and Love had the perfect touch and placement, right in the corner of the end zone, where Doubs snared it and got both feet down despite tight coverage from Rico Gafford.
"When you just connect on a play like that, a receiver makes an awesome play, those are definitely the fun ones," Love said, crediting Doubs multiple times for a great catch. "It just lets you relax a little bit, you get to celebrate the touchdown, and remind everybody that we're out here having fun and it takes some of the pressure off."
Plays like that were also a positive response to the disappointing finish to Monday's practice, when Love threw an interception to Vernon Scott to kill his drive in the two-minute drill.
To his credit, Love bounced back Tuesday and kept attacking, even criticizing himself for forcing a few rather than taking checkdowns. He wasn't shy.
He had another nicely placed throw with the heat on, lofting deep for Doubs against a blitz and putting the ball in a good spot, only to have cornerback Kiondre Thomas break it up.
"That's another example of just trusting where he's going to be, trusting he's going to keep the DB on his back hip so if I throw it inside the DB's not going to be able to make a play," Love said. "It comes down to the trust factor with both, me and the receiver."
Still, Love declined to call it his best practice of camp, lamenting the times he didn't get the ball out fast enough or find his "best hots" against pressure. Those frustrations almost certainly reminded him of his lone NFL start last year, when he faced a barrage of blitzes from the Kansas City defense and struggled to get the offense going for much of the game.
Tuesday was just a practice, where he's not to be hit by the oncoming rushers, but Love's response and production showed progress in those situations, even if he'll focus more on where he wishes he'd done better when he reviews the film. As is his routine, he planned to watch the practice while he ate lunch and then study it again in the QB meeting room later in the afternoon.
It's then he'll get private feedback from Aaron Rodgers, with whom his camp conversations are on a different level now that Love knows the offense so much better and has two preseason games, plus 1½ regular-season contests, under his belt. He had none of that experience a year ago at this time, in his second training camp.
"In the room, it's almost like talking to a coach with Aaron," Love said. "He's just so smart, (about) our system and then just football knowledge of the game, and knowing what the defense is doing. To pick his brain is pretty amazing."
Teammates can see the strides Love is making. Second-year receiver Amari Rodgers calls them "tremendous leaps" and credits him for "grinding in the offseason." The younger Rodgers also sees him playing more confidently.
That's all to be expected in Love's third year, and it bodes well for when the preseason games roll around and Love will likely be taking the bulk of the snaps. The three games in August will be his showcase, in the spotlight and under scrutiny.
There's no telling whether the 49ers, Saints or (yup) Chiefs will dial up as many blitzes in a preseason game as Love has faced and will continue to see in practice, but Tuesday featured some of the best preparation he'll get regardless.
Flawless? No. Forward? Absolutely.
"That's as game-like as you can get right there," he said. "In a game, they're going to be coming for you and aren't going to let up. You've just got to be able to find that calm, to see where the receiver is at and make that throw with pressure in your face.
"It wasn't a perfect day. There's things I wish I could improve on, some throws I missed. Yeah, I made some good throws and those are awesome, but I'm trying to be (better than that). With 12 right there, you see him every day and how consistent he is, and that's where I'm trying to get to – continue to grow and be consistent every day."