GREEN BAY – This past spring, Jordan Love received his first glimpse of what it's like the steer an NFL offense after stepping in as the Packers' No. 1 quarterback during the team's nine-week offseason program.
With reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers away from the team, Love took nearly every available rep during first- and sometimes second-team periods throughout OTAs and the June minicamp.
It was an invaluable experience for Love, who hardly received any snaps as a rookie in 2020 with the cancellation of a physical offseason program due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the truncated training camp that followed.
While Rodgers returned for training camp in July, the offseason test drive gave Love a chance to put a year's worth of bookwork and film study to use – and left a positive impression on his veteran teammates.
"You could see him settling in," running back Aaron Jones said. "You could see him getting comfortable and more confident each day and really getting an understanding of the offense."
That experience, in addition to eight weeks as Rodgers' in-season understudy, has prepared Love for the biggest moment of his career when he makes his first NFL start this Sunday against Kansas City.
The unlikely scenario unfolded on Wednesday morning when Head Coach Matt LaFleur informed Love that he would start after Rodgers was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
After throwing for 271 yards and a touchdown in two preseason starts, Love has since settled in as the primary backup to Rodgers during Green Bay's 7-1 start. He made one extended relief appearance, in the team's Week 1 loss to New Orleans.
Love completed 5-of-7 passes for 68 yards in two series against the Saints. On the second drive, Love guided the Packers' offense 58 yards down to the New Orleans 5 before he was sacked and stripped of the ball.
Since then, most of Love's reps have been spent leading the Packers' scout-team offense in practice. Coincidentally, due to a barrage of injuries, several of his running mates have graduated into the starting lineup, including center Lucas Patrick.
After getting a chance to work hand-in-hand with Love in the spring, LaFleur and Green Bay's offensive coaches have a good feel for where the former first-round pick is at in both his own development and command of the offense.
"There's definitely a comfort level in terms of just being able to spit out the play calls, the whole operation," LaFleur said. "It's going to come down to his ability to go out there and execute."
Love was the only quarterback available for Wednesday's practice, due to the Packers also placing practice-squad QB Kurt Benkert on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. LaFleur said during his Wednesday news conference the team would bring in a backup for Love prior to Sunday.
This will be the first time in LaFleur's two-plus seasons as Green Bay's head coach that he'll enter a game without Rodgers on the field. However, the Packers' ability to overcome injuries and adversity is what's led to their current seven-game win streak.
Green Bay recently lost starting tight end Robert Tonyan for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament but potentially could get speedster Marquez Valdes-Scantling back for Sunday. LaFleur also said he's hopeful All-Pro receiver Davante Adams could be nearing a return from the COVID-19 list.
Regardless of who is available, Jones said it'll be incumbent on the established members of the offense to let Love know they're behind him.
"I'm there for him in any kind of way, just as I know the other nine guys in the huddle will be," Jones said. "We don't know what it's going to be like out there, but to let him know before the game, 'Hey, just go play free, play your game, same thing you've been doing since (you were) a little kid. You don't have to do anything special. We got your back.'"
Jones further mentioned he's noticed Love being more vocal and assertive in the huddle this season. For as talented as Kansas City is on offense behind former league MVP Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs' defense has had its ups and downs this season.
Kansas City enters Sunday ranked 29th in total defense (391.5 yards per game), 25th in scoring (27.5 points per game) and 31st in sacks (11). The Chiefs have allowed 27 or more points in six of their eight games this season, which is the same number they allowed in 16 regular-season contests a year ago.
Love has yet to speak to the media this week but offered a level-headed response when asked at the end of training camp about what was next for him after his heavy offseason workload.
"I'm gonna be the backup quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, back up Aaron Rodgers as best I can and help him," replied Love following Green Bay's preseason finale against Buffalo on Aug. 28. "Obviously being a backup, you still gotta be ready."
This Sunday, sixth months of preparation will be put to the test when Love leads the Packers into Arrowhead Stadium to face the two-time defending AFC champions.
"It's not an easy place to play," LaFleur said. "You're talking about one of the loudest stadiums in the National Football League. It's a team that's been to back-to-back Super Bowls, so it's going to be a great challenge for us."