GREEN BAY – It’s time to find their place in Packers lore.
That’s the message new Head Coach Matt LaFleur wants to get across in his first minicamp this week.
He needs to get some of the basics of his playbook installed, too, of course, but the early days of his tenure are about setting a tone as well.
After LaFleur led his players onto the practice field for the first time Tuesday, he raved about their energy and the character and commitment it reflects. Then he shifted to his big-picture focus.
“When you come to the Green Bay Packers, obviously, you respect the tradition, the history, but for us and this football team, it’s about making history,” LaFleur said. “We’ll always pay credit and respect to what’s been done in the past, but for us, it’s moving forward.
“The expectation level is always going to be great in this organization, as it should be, but that’s really the vibe and what I want our guys to focus on.”
LaFleur has made some aesthetic changes around the team facility, adjusting the décor in the team meeting rooms and putting fresh, brighter paint on the walls. All that mixed with the same murals in the team hallways that mark memorable moments in the franchise’s history strikes the balance in perspective LaFleur is looking for.
“The most important thing is us moving forward together, and having a deference and appreciation for the past, but we haven’t won a Super Bowl in a while,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “So that’s the goal. It’s about doing things with this team right now.”
Rodgers is one of only four Packers on the current roster from the Super Bowl XLV championship team. The others are cornerback Tramon Williams, kicker Mason Crosby and right tackle Bryan Bulaga. No one else in the locker room has won a Super Bowl elsewhere, either.
The hunger is there, and LaFleur plans to capitalize on it. He wants the right approach from the start, part of the reason he closed Tuesday’s first minicamp practice to the media so it would be “just us.”
The early installations are admittedly rudimentary, with only meetings allowed the preceding two weeks of the offseason during strength and conditioning workouts. An initial walk-through took place before the non-padded practice, and then the on-field X’s and O’s officially began.
“This is definitely the most I’ve actually had to study in the offseason, out of all the years, because it’s a brand new system,” Rodgers said. “It’s like learning a new language. A lot of words that mean something in the last offense have different meanings now in this one, so it’s definitely a bit of a learning curve for me.”
He added, with some smiles and laughter, that the clips being shown in the film room to introduce LaFleur’s offense make up quite the highlight reel from his days in Washington, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Tennessee. It’s not realistic for every play to be dynamite, obviously, but it does establish a certain mood and understanding of the possibilities.
“They’re showing us these plays and Julio (Jones) is running 80 for a touchdown, or hitting Santana Moss or DeSean Jackson for big plays,” Rodgers said. “Those are exciting. You look at those and go, man, this offense is incredible, but it’s obviously cherry-picked to look as good as possible.
“The plays look great on the film. It’s going to be incorporating them with the guys that we have and finding who those guys are who run those plays best and putting our best players in position to make an impact in the game.”
The Packers are a long way from that. The LaFleur era is just getting started, hitting the field for the first couple of times this week. The draft this weekend will bring in a new rookie class, and the full 90-man roster and depth chart will take shape through OTAs in May and June before the pads go on in late July.
This week is one step of many, but the vibe for the long haul appears to be set.
Williams called it “almost like turning a page in a book.” A history book, with blank pages waiting to be filled.
“A new energy, a new spirit, whatever it is, and we’re all in it together,” Williams said. “Good feeling right now.”