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Matt LaFleur embraced the challenge of Packers' virtual offseason

Packers head coach hopes preparation pays off later this summer

QB Aaron Rodgers, Head Coach Matt LaFleur
QB Aaron Rodgers, Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – As Matt LaFleur outlined his second offseason program as head coach of the Green Bay Packers, he envisioned constructive meetings, competitive practices and team-building exercises to break the ice in the locker room.

What LaFleur didn't anticipate was spending his spring in front of a green screen from his house, teaching his playbook to the Packers' 90-man roster through livestreaming technology and pre-recorded team meetings uploaded to players' iPads.

This offseason, forced online due to nationwide stay-at-home orders put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, will go down as one no player, coach or NFL personnel executive will soon forget.

While LaFleur offers the 2011 lockout as evidence of how development and preparation can happen under less-than-ideal circumstances, he and his coaching staff were challenged to make their program digestible to players scattered throughout the country.

And based on a small sample of players who spoke to the media this offseason, the coaches succeeded in that task.

"I think we've done a great job remotely of teaching it. I have no problems," said left tackle David Bakhtiari earlier this month. "I think we have the best structure. I've been around a couple other guys on a couple other teams and how they've operated, and I like ours the best."

The virtual program went online in May, with the NFL mandating that classroom meetings and video workouts last no longer than two hours a day. LaFleur felt strongly about the former, in particular, with the coaching staff following up with individual position meetings and quizzes to reinforce concepts.

Review sessions ran roughly 20-30 minutes in duration and were intended to answer any questions players might have. To keep things fresh, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett brought in a friend who works in teaching as a consultant, while other coaches used video clips and humor to keep players' attention.

Bouncing in and out of meetings, LaFleur was able to keep tabs on everything. He came away impressed by both the creativity of his coaches and how the players maintained an open mind throughout the learn-as-you-go process. What's more, LaFleur reported 100% participation from the locker room.

The biggest benefit, LaFleur feels, is that every player – from 15-year pros Aaron Rodgers and Marcedes Lewis to undrafted rookies – were able to absorb the playbook at a palatable speed.

"It really gave us a chance, for these players, to learn the system at their own pace," LaFleur said. "We had great communication throughout. I really do think our guys got a lot out of this virtual offseason."

To close the offseason program, LaFleur had former Packers defensive back Charles Woodson address the team via video. Players and coaches then reviewed a few final concepts and LaFleur dismissed the players until training camp, reminding them to take care of their bodies and "come back in the best shape you've ever been in."

The Packers didn't have as many team-building opportunities as they would've in the traditional nine-week offseason program, but LaFleur was proud of how the locker room came together in the aftermath of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis on May 25. The coaching staff welcomed discussion in meetings, while the leadership council spearheaded a video calling for social-justice reform.

There still is a lot of uncertainty about what lies ahead, but LaFleur likes the makeup of his team. As the Packers move into the summer, he feels they've done everything they could to prepare under incomparable conditions.

"It'd be nice to be out on the field and come together, and just be around one another," LaFleur said. "I think as important as anything is that team chemistry. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

"But it's the same for 31 other teams. I was proud of the efforts our guys made. I thought they did everything that could possibly do with the circumstances given."