GREEN BAY – As the Packers look to sort out their pecking order at wide receiver beyond Davante Adams as their No. 1 guy, they may not end up with a standard hierarchy.
And new Head Coach Matt LaFleur will be just fine with that.
Following Tuesday’s open OTA practice, LaFleur explained his view of putting together a wide receiver corps. He likened it to “filling out a basketball roster,” for which the preference is to have a diverse set of skills in the group that the coaches can draw upon with their offensive play designs and calls.
So while it’s clear Adams is Aaron Rodgers’ go-to target in the passing game, and fourth-year pro Geronimo Allison has far more NFL experience than any of the understudies, other labels such as a No. 3 or slot receiver may not exist in the traditional sense.
“You need guys that are at a certain area of expertise, and then it’s our job as coaches to put those guys into position where they can showcase that skill set,” LaFleur said.
Put another way, LaFleur and his staff are going to work with the Packers’ plethora of young wideouts – which includes 2018 draft picks Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore, plus last year’s emerging contributor Jake Kumerow, late-season signee Allen Lazard and veteran return specialist Trevor Davis, among others – to find out what each guy does best, and sort out roster spots and roles from there.
So while a common question over the past couple of months has been who will replace departed free agent Randall Cobb in the slot, the answer might be no one and everyone at the same time.
“It’s more concept-driven, not necessarily slot versus outside receiver,” LaFleur said. “Are you asking the guy to run a choice route, or are you asking him to take the top off and run a vertical route?”
By “choice route,” LaFleur means a route within which the receiver has options for what to do and where to go, depending on the defensive coverage. It’s the type of route where the quarterback and receiver must see the field the same way and “be on the same page,” as the saying goes.
As expected, some receivers are more adept than others at reading defenses, making those choices and seeing the game like Rodgers. Everyone needs to work on it, but the better ones will stand out over time, particularly as they absorb more of LaFleur’s scheme. Another receiver might line up in the exact same place for another play, but then have a completely different job.
“Everybody’s got their own little spin, their own little thing to him,” Moore said. And while they’re all learning a new playbook from scratch together, they have that first season with Rodgers under their collective belts.
The Packers practiced inside the Don Hutson Center on Wednesday for voluntary minicamp.
“Getting that experience with one of the best quarterbacks to ever do it, you can’t take that back,” Valdes-Scantling said.
In the early stages of the offensive installation, Rodgers emphasized he wants to see the young receivers show consistency on the mental side, which starts with “alignment and assignment” – knowing the formations and responsibilities on every snap. Once those are down, their best skills will shine through, and LaFleur and his staff can figure out where and how they fit.
“The greatest thing a young player can do is not repeat a mistake, because a repeat mistake a lot of times is tied to preparation,” Rodgers said. “(If you’re not) locking that thing away in your mind so you don’t make the same mistake twice, it maybe shows you don’t care to fix something.”
Rodgers mentioned several young receivers have made plays during the early OTAs as opportunities have been plentiful. Adams was being held out for unspecified precautionary reasons, according to LaFleur, and Allison is still working his way back from last year’s season-ending core muscle injury.
Of course, when it’s all said and done, the most diverse, well-rounded receivers will put themselves in position for the most playing time. But if there’s a specific, standout skill that LaFleur can maximize on within the framework of his offense, he’s going to try to utilize it.
“You’re not going to go out and play with five point guards,” LaFleur said, continuing the basketball roster analogy. “You need a speed guy. You need a guy that’s got short-area quickness… (and) we’d like to have a couple guys that are versatile enough to do both of those things.”