Jun 22, 2023

Doubs emerging as potential security blanket for Love, other takeaways

GREEN BAY – With thunderstorms rolling into northeast Wisconsin, the Green Bay Packers cut their second open organized team activity session short Wednesday afternoon.

The Packers had been practicing almost their full allotted two hours since OTAs began last week. They were on the field for about 90 minutes Wednesday. Coach Matt LaFleur said, among other things, the Packers were unable to conduct their second in a pair of scheduled 2-minute drills for starting quarterback Jordan Love.

The first-year starter was impressive in his lone 2-minute drill, connecting with second-year receiver Romeo Doubs to move the Packers offense down the field. The Packers not only were in shorts and jerseys without pads, but their defense was without top cornerbacks Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas and Keisean Nixon. Against backups, Love and Doubs connected four times for 42 yards, including a pair of third-and-5 completions to help propel the drive inside the red zone.

Love completed 7 of his 10 passes on the drive. One of the incompletions was a spike to stop a running clock.

"I’m just making sure I’ll be there for him," Doubs said at his locker after the shortened practice. "That's my biggest phrase right now. As long as I’m there for him, I feel like everything else will take care of itself."

Attention is acutely tuned to Love this offseason as he inherits the starting job from four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers, but Doubs has had an impressive start to his spring. The second-year receiver caught a touchdown in a red zone period in the last open OTA session, making a nifty move to get into the end zone after catching Love's pass on an out route to the left.

Love's comfortability with Doubs was clear Wednesday. On the first third-and-5 conversion, Doubs got open on a slant route. A few plays later, he made a sideline catch on an out. Love also connected with Doubs on a busted coverage to convert a third-and-10 down the left sideline in team drills.

Doubs had a standout training camp as a rookie last year and strong start to his first season before a high-ankle sprain in November forced him to miss four games. This offseason, offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich suggested Doubs never fully recovered from his injury down the stretch. Now that Doubs is healthy, coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday, his young receiver is playing at the same high level he showed before his injury.

"It's good to see him pick up where he was at, at one time," LaFleur said, "and very encouraged by his progress and just his overall knowledge. You can tell he feels comfortable. I think really all the guys who were a part of it last year as rookies, it's amazing how far they’ve come up to this point."

Love's first deep ball Wednesday was forgettable. Early in team drills, Love targeted Doubs down the middle of the field in double coverage. His pass was intercepted by safety Darnell Savage, who did a good job tracking the football like a centerfielder.

What might have been most impressive about Love in his second OTA practice, aside from the successful 2-minute drill, was his patience as a passer. Love showed a willingness to take what the defense gave, specifically when it came to hitting his checkdowns. A wide pass went incomplete to AJ Dillon in the right flat, but Love was able to quickly transition to a secondary progression and find his open running back. A few reps later, Love connected with tailback Aaron Jones on a checkdown in the left flat.

It's the type of poise LaFleur mentioned earlier this offseason when discussing why the Packers believe Love is ready for his shot. At his locker, Doubs emphasized the belief he and his fellow receivers have in their new starter.

"There is going to be a change," Doubs said. "No doubt about that. In the end, I’m glad I have Jordan, and I’m truly confident in what he can do."

What gives Doubs that confidence?

"Because all of us," Doubs said, "we’ve worked with him before. We know what situation we’re in right now."

It's becoming clear a pair of 2023 second-round draft picks will have a chance to get early snaps in the Packers offense this fall.

Tight end Luke Musgrave and receiver Jayden Reed, drafted eight spots apart in April, are already getting a healthy portion of first-team reps. Reed has been operating mostly in the slot, where he had a reception from Love on a deep inside route during team drills. Musgrave was on the receiving end of perhaps Love's most impressive throw of the day, a 20-yard rifle from Love across the middle of the field against coverage from safety Tarvarius Moore.

On early impressions, Musgrave is built differently than most tight ends the Packers have employed in the past. His 6-foot-6, 253-pound frame and 4.61 speed in the 40-yard dash have stood out in offseason drills, designed to showcase athletic ability.

"He is different," LaFleur said.

LaFleur said Musgrave's intelligence is allowing for so many early reps with the starters. So far, he's been the type of rookie who doesn't repeat mistakes, able to take what he learns in the classroom to the practice field.

His uncommon athletic traits don't hurt.

"He does have an elite trait," LaFleur said, "that he can flat fly. And he's a big, long target. So we’re very excited about him and the progress he's made up to this point, and we’ve got to continue to push him."

Other than Alexander, Douglas and Nixon, most of the Packers top players were present for Wednesday's voluntary practice. Preston Smith returned after missing last week's session, as did offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins.

Jenkins participated in team drills, but not Bakhtiari. It wasn't surprising to see the 11th-year veteran on the sidelines after going through individual work. The Packers rolled out a starting offensive line with Caleb Jones at left tackle, Jenkins at left guard, Josh Myers at center, Jon Runyan at right guard and Zach Tom at right tackle.

Without their top three corners, the Packers had Kiondre Thomas and Corey Ballentine starting on the outside, with Shemar Jean-Charles at nickel. Seventh-round draft pick Carrington Valentine rotated in with the starters on the perimeter. At safety, Rudy Ford once again got the first reps aside Savage. Moore and Jonathan Owens were on second string.

The secondary should be getting a reinforcement soon. Cornerback Eric Stokes is nearing a return to the practice field, LaFleur said, though he's unlikely to take team reps until training camp.

"He's done a great job," LaFleur said of Stokes, who is returning from a Lisfranc injury and torn meniscus. "I think he's made a lot of great strides in his rehab, and he's been running around. So hopefully, by the end of this, maybe he’ll get in there for some individual. I don't foresee him in any team situations through the course of OTAs and into minicamp."

Rookie tight end Tucker Kraft did not practice Wednesday because of an apparent, undisclosed injury. Safety Dallin Leavitt and outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin were also absent for the second straight open OTA session. Rookie receivers Dontayvion Wicks and Grant DuBose also did not practice.

The Packers will have joint practices against two teams when camp opens. The first, hosting the New England Patriots, will be no surprise. LaFleur has made a habit of hosting preseason opponents in Green Bay since he was hired as head coach in 2019.

The second will be a departure from how the team has conducted business.

LaFleur confirmed the Packers will have joint practices in Cincinnati before their preseason opener against the Bengals. The team will have a light practice on a Tuesday morning before leaving for Cincinnati, he said. They’ll practice against the Bengals on Wednesday, have a walkthrough on Thursday and play their preseason opener on a Friday night.

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Their preseason opener is scheduled for Aug. 11.

The joint practice moves camp outside Green Bay for the first time in decades. LaFleur said it’ll be a good experience for a young team.

"It changes up the monotony of camp of guys going against each other," LaFleur said. "What's great about going to Cincinnati is it's going to give us a little bit of a longer bonding trip for our guys to hang out together. We think it's going to be a really valuable experience."

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