GREEN BAY – The first step into the Don Hutson Center felt different, but that wasn’t all.
The Packers’ second veteran minicamp practice on Wednesday was open to the media, and several things weren’t the same.
The Hutson Center has a new, softer surface that is painted differently, too. Instead of two partial football fields arranged in a “T,” there’s a full-length, 100-yard field with the Packers’ “G” logo at midfield and fully painted end zones, a visual replica of Lambeau Field but with an artificial surface.
The Packers practiced inside the Don Hutson Center on Wednesday for voluntary minicamp.
Music played, steadily but not loudly, throughout the nearly two-hour workout as well. And new Head Coach Matt LaFleur was all over the field, bouncing around to different spots and different position groups.
All in all, the changes aren’t anything drastic, but it certainly is a new era.
“Who doesn’t want to have fun when they go to work?” said LaFleur, pegging the atmosphere he’s instilling to the one he experienced in Atlanta three years ago under Dan Quinn. “I just think you can get more out of people when they enjoy what they do.”
Wednesday’s workout was admittedly sloppier than Tuesday’s, as LaFleur said more passing concepts were introduced that slowed the pace down. But some hiccups were to be expected.
The mood remained pretty upbeat throughout, and when cornerback Jaire Alexander made a nice play to pick off an Aaron Rodgers deep ball intended for Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the defense celebrated by posing for a fake photo in the middle of the field.
LaFleur suggested that might have gone a little too far, but he wants the players to make it fun. The defense was geared up for another celebration when safety Josh Jones had an interception in his sights, but he couldn’t hold on to the ball.
“It’s energetic,” new safety Adrian Amos said. “People think it might not make a difference, but I think when music is on and it’s an open-door policy, everybody is more relaxed. Everybody is more comfortable with each other. When everything is open, people are not afraid to speak up and afraid to talk or afraid to be themselves, so that’s always a positive.”
Offensive lineman Lane Taylor said LaFleur’s energy rubs off on others, and even just a little music during practice – the Packers played music only during water breaks before – can “change the mood.”
“The play list has been solid,” Taylor said. “Coach asked for a few requests, so it should get a little interesting. I haven’t given him anything. I’ll leave that up to Aaron or Corey (Linsley) or somebody.”
The basketball hoop in the team meeting room and the new paint job around the halls add to the new atmosphere, and defensive lineman Mike Daniels said changes like that help everyone “perk up” when they walk in.
The fun on the field is still balanced with serious teaching and coaching, though. It’s still professional football, not recess.
“Things go wrong – and they went wrong a couple times in practice – guys are going to get kicked in the behind,” Daniels said. “That’s football. It still comes back to a positive … it’s ‘Hey, you’re better than that.’
“It’s a new approach and a lot of people are really excited. You can just see everybody is happy in a good way, not a complacent way. Like they’re excited to come to work and it’s really fun. I think sometimes that’s what happens when there’s a change.”