INDIANAPOLIS – When his players return to Green Bay for offseason workouts in early April, Head Coach Matt LaFleur would love to be able to hand the offense a set-in-stone playbook for 2019.
But that’s not reality, nor is it practical.
“The toughest challenge is putting together a playbook and saying, ‘Hey, this is going to be the same playbook that we (take) to training camp,’” LaFleur said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “That’s not going to be the case. There’s going to be tweaks along the way.”
While LaFleur and his offensive assistants will continue building their playbook over the next month, it’s inevitably going to be a work in progress, but there are good reasons for that.
One is LaFleur is still in the process of getting to know the Packers’ personnel on hand. Another is needing to get more input from the offensive coaching staff he recently put together. Last but far from least is working through the practice installations with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and finding both where his comfort zone is, and where he can be pushed outside it.
Regarding personnel, LaFleur likes many of the pieces he already possesses, and not just Rodgers. He also mentioned having a top-flight left tackle in David Bakhtiari plus a veteran center in Corey Linsley anchoring the offensive line, and a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Davante Adams, with young up-and-comers behind him.
It’s a welcome foundation for a first-year head coach. What he needs to find out is how diverse the skill sets are with the young receivers relative to what he’ll ask them to do. The same goes for the running backs and their abilities in the passing game, such as executing option routes and other concepts that might be new to them.
“You just don’t quite know until you work with these guys,” LaFleur said. “You have a good idea, but … I don’t think anything is 100 percent.”
The playbook will have to play to the strengths of the personnel, so it will change as those come into clearer focus.
LaFleur also has an offensive coaching staff he’s getting to know, headed by coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. As they become more familiar with each other, additional ideas will surface that play off the concepts LaFleur wants to build around that he may not have tried before.
“There’s going to be some new ideas that they’re going to teach me,” LaFleur said. “Because I will say this: Nobody is above coaching, and it starts at me. I’m going to be like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool. Let’s see if that fits into what we want to do philosophically.’”
Those conversations will be just as extensive, if not more so, with Rodgers. LaFleur continues to stress that his relationship with Rodgers is paramount, obviously, but he’ll have to walk a fine line.
While he doesn’t want the playbook installation to become fitting a square peg in a round hole, there are times he’ll have to push Rodgers, and everyone on offense for that matter, to stay persistent and dedicated to the transition during less-than-smooth segments.
LaFleur said he’s got plenty of plays, so crossing a few off won’t hurt his feelings. But working through some struggles will be necessary, too.
“One of the messages that I’ll have for our players is, ‘Guys, in order to grow, you have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable,’” LaFleur said. “We’ve got to attack it with an open mind and try it. Everybody within our organization has got to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.”
The more veteran the player, the greater challenge that may be, which again brings it back to Rodgers, the two-time MVP. One philosophy LaFleur wants to emphasize is staying balanced run-pass on first and second down, not only because he feels it keeps a defense off-balance, but it protects a quarterback from excessive hits and can extend his career.
That could help earn Rodgers’ buy-in. LaFleur also learned in Atlanta working with veteran Matt Ryan, particularly during his 2016 NFL MVP season, that keeping communication open and understanding other roots of a QB’s success can help maximize on the playbook’s possibilities.
“How we can both learn together and grow together and make it our offense?” LaFleur said. “It’s not my offense. This is going to be our offense. It’s a partnership.
“It’s trying to teach him how I see it, but I also want to know how he sees it because there’s a lot of great things he’s had a lot of success with in the past that we’d be crazy not to continue to do.”
General Manager Brian Gutekunst continues to say this is an “exciting time,” not just for him and the upcoming draft, but for the marriage of LaFleur’s offense with the latter third of Rodgers’ career. He referenced 2016 and Atlanta, which the Packers visited twice that year, losing at the last second in the regular season and then getting blown out in the playoffs.
“They had good players – there’s no doubt about that – but we didn’t have answers for them, either,” Gutekunst said. “I thought it put a ton of stress on our defense that we couldn’t overcome.
“So yeah, I’m excited, I think our players will be, too, and now it’s time to work.”
The playbook will be built, modified, installed and adjusted from now through Week 1 and beyond. Come early April, LaFleur and Rodgers will be just getting started.
“I know this: When I talk to him, the guy wants to win,” LaFleur said. “I think he’s at the point of his career where he’s starting to think about his legacy and what he’s going to leave, and the only way you can do that is you better win a world championship.”