GREEN BAY — They were not only in full pads, but full uniform — offense in the home greens, defense in the road whites. There were actual officials — albeit only four of them, and none from the NFL. The stadium scoreboard showed replays — though because it was an intrasquad scrimmage, highlights for one side of the ball were lowlights for the other. They even brought in public-address announcer Bill Jartz to bellow down-and-distance — though to a non-existent Lambeau Field crowd.
Yes, the Green Bay Packers did their best to conjure up a reasonable facsimile to a normal preseason game Sunday. They even kicked the festivities off at noon — precisely two weeks from their regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis — and ran roughly 100 snaps of 11-on-11 plays, albeit without full-on tackling.
“To me, it really did feel like a game today,” third-year defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster said during a Zoom video call with reporters. “And I feel like this is the best way we’re going to get prepared.”
Not that the Packers had much of a choice, with COVID-19 having led to the cancellation of all preseason games across the league. The Packers also had invited the Cleveland Browns to town for joint practices pre-pandemic, but those sessions also were wiped out, leaving the team — and the rest of the NFL — with essentially three weeks of actual practice before getting ready for the games to count.
In addition, Sunday’s session was the Packers’ final camp-style practice, as coach Matt LaFleur said the team will transition into a regular-season schedule with in-season style practices Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before Saturday’s final roster cuts take the roster from 80 to 53 players.
“I think the guys got good work in,” LaFleur said. “And they’ve got to realize that two weeks from today, we’re going to be playing our first game. So they’ve got to stack consistent practices on top of each other.”
While the practice was hardly the end-all, be-all of evaluation, here are a few noteworthy observations from the 2-hour, 14-minute practice, which was the longest of camp:
Other than the post-practice limited scrimmaging the Packers did with young players a few times, the Packers will go into the season without having actually done any tackling. LaFleur said the coaches discussed doing some Sunday but ultimately decided against it.
“We want to have all our horses for the race coming in two weeks. We’ve got to make sure that we’re healthy because I know this: We’re going to be at our best when we’ve got all our guys out there,” LaFleur said. “It was something that we talked about today, even during that practice, whether or not with some of the younger guys if we were going to give them another live reps. But some of the circumstances dictated us going in a different direction there right at the end.”
Right tackle battle
LaFleur said last week the competition for the starting right tackle job between Billy Turner, who started all 18 games at right guard last year, and Rick Wagner, who was signed to replace departed free agent Bryan Bulaga, could go all the way up to the opener. That battle apparently will continue as the duo split snaps at the spot Sunday as Wagner tries to make up for time lost to an elbow injury
“We sometimes ask the linemen to do some different things than they’ve done at previous teams,” LaFleur acknowledged. “So it’s just a matter of (Wagner) learning our different fundamentals and our different techniques in how we do things.”
Running in place?
While hard to tell with no live tackling, the offense seemed to have real success on the ground. While that’s great news for a team that wants to run the ball more, it wasn’t so wonderful for a defense that was last seen hemorrhaging 285 rushing yards in the NFC Championship Game.
“That’s a double-edged sword,” LaFleur said. “It’s great because it did seem like there were some holes in the area, (but) that’s something we’ve got to make sure we don’t allow to have happen defensively.”
Bring the noise
As they had during a previous practice inside Lambeau, the Packers piped in artificial crowd noise. While LaFleur said he still hasn’t gotten final word from the league about how loud the noise will be for games, he certainly noticed it Sunday.
“We went out there today with a set decibel level that we had the other day in practice and it sounded like twice as loud as the other day, so we had to taper it back a little bit,” said LaFleur, adding there also were some communication problems with the sideline headsets and walkie-talkies the coaches used. “That’s something we’re going to have to work through and might have to come back out here at Lambeau just to get a real feel for exactly how it’s going to sound.”
Feeling the Love
Rookie quarterback Jordan Love’s scrimmage started out shaky, with several early throws sailing on him. But he seemed to settle in and finished (unofficially) 8 of 14 for 98 yards and a touchdown, with his best throw being a third-and-12 downfield throw to Darrius Shepherd for 34 yards near the end of practice.
“It felt like it was probably his best day up to this point, just making some key throws downfield,” LaFleur said. “I think he’s consistently getting better and better and better. That tends to happen with these guys when you have more a game plan emphasis going into it. You kind of shrink the playbook down for him. Hopefully, he wasn’t thinking as much out there, and I think that translated into a better performance.”
In the running
Another rookie, halfback AJ Dillon, again got plenty of work with the 1s behind Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, and LaFleur indicated afterward he will employ a three-headed backfield.
“He’d better be ready. We feel really confident with our running back corps as a whole unit, and I think you’re going to see all those guys in the mix,” LaFleur said. “They all bring a little something different to the table. I think AJ’s showing improvement. Just like any young back, there is a lot to learn in this offseason in terms of just whether it’s in the pass game and pass protection. Certainly, he has some great skills as a runner, and he’s got to have the mindset that he better be ready to roll.“
Making his case
Shepherd, who made the team as an undrafted free agent last year before being demoted to the practice squad after a poor showing against Detroit in Week 6, had perhaps the best day of any wideout, catching a 20-yard touchdown pass from Tim Boyle, picking up a third-and-6 with a 7-yard catch from Love and then reeling in that seam route for 34 yards from Love.
“It’s going to be our only opportunity to play as a team in a preseason setting before we go to Minnesota. So I think guys are definitely amped up and locked in,” Shepherd said. “It was definitely weird with no fans being there, but that’s going to be what we get used to these first (few) weeks. So we’ll see how it goes, but I think guys were locked in and treated it like a game-type atmosphere today.”
Get ready for Packers season with a week-by-week breakdown of Green Bay's schedule
WEEK 1 | AT MINNESOTA
Date: Sept. 13
Last meeting: The Packers defeated the Vikings, 23-10, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Dec. 23, 2019, to improve to 12-3 on the season and clinch the NFC North Division title. Packers running back Aaron Jones (above) had a season-high 154 rushing yards on 23 carries, scoring twice on the ground.
Player to watch: The Vikings' top pick in the 2020 NFL draft, LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson (No. 22 overall) could make his first appearance in the storied rivalry when the teams meet to open the season. In three season with the Tigers, the 6-foot-1 Jefferson racked up 2,415 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns.
You should know: The Packers, winners of both meetings last season, lead the all-time regular-season series with a record of 61-53-3 against the Vikings.
WEEK 2 | VS. DETROIT
Date: Sept. 20
Last meeting: The Packers held off the Lions, 23-20, in their regular-season finale on Dec. 29, 2019, to finish the season with a 13-3 record under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur. While Aaron Rodgers completed 27 of 55 pass attempts for 323 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, it was kicker Mason Crosby (above) who proved to be the hero in the closing seconds, hitting a 33-yard field goal as time expired to give Green Bay the victory.
Player to watch: Veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford, who missed the Lions' final meeting with the Packers last season after playing in only half of Detroit's games, is seen by some NFL insiders as due for a strong rebound this season. In his one appearance against Green Bay last season, Stafford completed 18 of 32 passes for 265 yards with no touchdowns and a passer rating of 83.5. Entering his 12th season, Stafford had previously been a steady presence for the Lions, not missing a regular-season game the previous eight seasons.
You should know: After winning both meetings last season, the Packers extended their head-to-head lead over the Lions to 100-72-7 in regular-season matchups.
WEEK 3 | AT NEW ORLEANS
Date: Sept. 27
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Last meeting: When the Packers and Saints meet this season it will have been nearly three years since they last faced each other, when New Orleans won 26-17 on Oct. 22, 2017, at Lambeau Field. With Rodgers out due to injury, backup quarterback Brett Hundley, making his first start, couldn't get the job done, completing only 12 of 25 passes for 87 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Saints QB Drew Brees didn't have one of his best outings (27 of 38 for 331 yards with one TD and two interceptions) but it was enough to get the job done on the road as Green Bay managed only 3 points in the second half after leading 14-7 at the break.
Player to watch: Wisconsin football fans are well aware of the damage New Orleans rookie linebacker Zack Baun is capable of inflicting on an offense. Baun, taken by the Saints in the third round (No. 74 overall), had a strong career for the Badgers, finishing his four years in Madison with 152 tackles, 15 sacks and two interceptions.
You should know: During the teams' 2017 meeting at Lambeau Field, Packers legend Bart Starr (above) was in attendance as Green Bay celebrated the 50th anniversary of its 1967 championship team. It would be the last pubic appearance at a Packers game for the Hall of Fame quarterback, who passed away at the age of 85 on May 26, 2019.
WEEK 4 | VS. ATLANTA
Date: Oct. 5 (Monday)
Time: 7:15 p.m.
Last meeting: The Packers defeated the Falcons, 34-20, on Dec. 9, 2018, at Lambeau Field. Despite taking four sacks, Rodgers turned in a solid outing, completing 21 of 32 attempts for 196 yards and two touchdowns as Packers interim coach Joe Philbin (above) picked up his first win just seven days after longtime coach Mike McCarthy's ouster.
Player to watch: Cornerback AJ Terrell, taken by Atlanta with the 16th pick in this year's NFL draft, could cause headaches for Green Bay's thin receiver corps. The 6-foot-1 Terrell finished his three-year career at Clemson with 101 tackles, two forced fumbles and six interceptions. Clemson fell to LSU, 42-25, in last season's College Football Championship, with Terrell registering five tackles in his final collegiate game.
You should know: The Packers had reportedly asked the league for a road date for Week 4, with the University of Wisconsin football team scheduled to face Notre Dame on Saturday, Oct. 3, at Lambeau Field. Instead, Lambeau is now set to host two games in a span of three days.
WEEK 5 | BYE
WEEK 6 | AT TAMPA BAY
Date: Oct. 18
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: While Green Bay defeated Tampa Bay, 26-20, on Dec. 3, 2017, at Lambeau, these are far from the same Buccaneers. During the teams' last meeting, then third-year QB Jameis Winston, en route to 3-10 mark under center on the season, had a roller-coaster performance. Despite throwing for 270 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, Winston was sacked seven times as Green Bay needed an overtime score from running back Aaron Jones (above) to pull out the victory.
Player to watch: Two words — Tom Brady. A sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the all-time great quarterbacks, Brady shocked the football world this offseason when he left the New England Patriots after 20 years — and six Super Bowl victories — to head south in hopes of turning around the woeful Bucs, who finished last season with a 5-11 record.
You should know: Brady isn't the only big-name addition Tampa Bay made this offseason. One of Brady's favorite targets in New England, tight end Rob Gronkowski, came out of his one-year retirement to join his pal in the NFC South Division.
WEEK 7 | AT HOUSTON
Date: Oct. 25
Last meeting: The Packers last faced the Texans on Dec. 4, 2016, pulling out a 21-13 victory at a snow-covered Lambeau after posting 14 points in the final quarter. Rodgers had a strong showing, completing 20 of 30 attempts for 270 yards and two scores with no interceptions. But it was wide receiver Jordy Nelson (above) who turned in a stellar performance, racking up 118 yards on eight catches, including a 32-yard touchdown in the final quarter.
Player to watch: A three-time NFL defensive player of the year, Wisconsin native J.J. Watt needs no introduction to football fans in the Dairy State. While Watt missed a large chunk of last season, he did return in time for the playoffs, helping Houston defeat Buffalo in the Wild Card round before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs, who went on to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
You should know: This will only be the fifth meeting between the two teams, with the Packers having won 3 of the 4 previous matchups, including the last two.
WEEK 8 | VS. MINNESOTA
Date: Nov. 1
You should know: It's been over a decade since these NFC North rivals have wrapped their regular-season battle this early in the season. In 2009, the Packers and Vikings faced off in Week 8 on Nov. 1 for the final time in the regular season, with Brett Favre (above) leading Minnesota to a 38-26 victory over his former team. Last season, the teams didn't meet for the final time until Week 16, when Green Bay won in Minnesota to clinch the division title.
WEEK 9 | AT SAN FRANCISCO
Date: Nov. 5 (Thursday)
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Last meeting: Packers fans likely don't need — or want — a reminder about what happened the last time Green Bay and San Francisco went head to head. But for those who blocked out that painful encounter, here's a quick refresher. With a trip to Super Bowl LIV on the line, the Packers' defense was no match for the 49ers' ground game in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 19 as running back Raheem Mostert (above) had his way while rushing for 220 yards and four scores en route to a 37-20 victory. Green Bay also struggled mightily in their lone regular-season meeting last season as San Francisco handed the Packers one of their three regular-season losses, a 37-8 defeat in Week 12.
Player to watch: While the Packers didn't use any of their selections in this year's draft on one of the many talented wide receivers, the 49ers traded up to take WR Brandon Aiyuk out of Arizona State in the first round (No. 25 overall). The 6-foot Aiyuk, who caught 98 passes for 1,666 yards and 11 touchdowns in two seasons with the Sun Devils, could contribute right away for the NFC champs, who are also thin at the receiver position.
You should know: While the Packers have a narrow lead over the 49ers in regular-season matchups (32-28-1), the teams are now 4-4 in the playoffs, with the Packers having lost the past three postseason meetings.
WEEK 10 | VS. JACKSONVILLE
Date: Nov. 15
Last meeting: The Packers last faced the Jaguars four years ago in their season opener on Sept. 11, 2016, escaping with a 27-23 win at EverBank Field. With both teams posting only 6 points apiece after halftime, it was Green Bay's 14-point second quarter that proved the difference. Rodgers delivered his two touchdown passes of the day in the frame, connecting on a 6-yarder to Nelson and a 29-yard score to Davante Adams (above) in the closing seconds of the first half.
Player to watch: The Jaguars used the No. 9 overall pick in this year's draft on cornerback CJ Henderson, who earned first-team all-SEC honors last season at Florida. The 6-foot-1 Henderson finished his three years with the Gators with 93 tackles, six interceptions and four sacks.
You should know: Having only met six times, Green Bay leads the all-time series 4-2, with their last loss to Jacksonville coming in 2008, Rodgers' first season as a starter.
WEEK 11 | AT INDIANAPOLIS
Date: Nov. 22
Last meeting: Green Bay and Indianapolis last squared off on Nov. 6, 2016, with the Colts escaping Lambeau with 31-26 victory despite the Packers scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter. Colts QB Andrew Luck (above) was a bit shaky, throwing two interceptions to go along with 281 yards passing and a touchdown, but it was enough to get the job done. Rodgers had more yards (297) and touchdowns (3) but he couldn't pull off the comeback after Green Bay entered halftime down 24-10.
Player to watch: Quarterback Philip Rivers signed a one-year free-agent deal with the Colts on March 21 to become their new starting quarterback. The 38-year-old Rivers, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, spent the first 16 years of his NFL career with the Chargers but struggled last season, finishing his final campaign with a 5-11 record.
You should know: The Colts have a slight edge over the Packers in the all-time series, with 22-20-1 record in regular-season matchups.
WEEK 12 | VS. CHICAGO
Date: Nov. 29
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Last meeting: The Packers and Bears met for the final time last season in Week 15, with Green Bay defeating Chicago, 21-13, on Dec. 15, 2019, at Lambeau Field to improve to 11-3 on the season. Adams (above) had a monster day for the Packers, catching seven passes from Rodgers for 103 yards and a touchdown. The Packers also picked up a 10-3 victory over the Bears in Week 1.
Player to watch: Despite the Bears recently declining to pick up quarterback Mitch Trubisky's fifth-year contract option, worth $24.8 million, Chicago's front office is insisting that the team has faith in him. Starting 15 games in his third season last year, Trubisky finished with an 8-7 record after going 11-3 in 2018 and 4-8 in 2017.
You should know: In one of the most-storied rivalries in professional sports, Green Bay leads Chicago 98-94-6 dating back to the 1921 season.
WEEK 13 | VS. PHILADELPHIA
Date: Dec. 6
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: The fist of Green Bay's three losses last season came against Philadelphia as the Eagles pulled out a 34-27 victory over the Packers at Lambeau in Week 4 on Sept. 26, 2019. The Packers tied the game at 27-all late in the third quarter when Rodgers found tight end Jimmy Graham (above) for a 14-yard touchdown, but Green Bay failed to score again, with Adams leaving in the fourth with an injury. A 2-yard touchdown run by running back Jordan Howard early in the final frame put Philadelphia ahead for good. The Packers would rebound from the loss by winning four straight before falling to the Chargers in Los Angeles in Week 9.
Player to watch: Veteran quarterback Carson Wentz says he's "excited" by Philadelphia's decision to draft former Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts in the second round of this year's draft. With three years and almost $130 million left on his contract, Wentz likely isn't going anywhere soon, but there will be a lot of eyes on Philadelphia waiting to see how the move unfolds. Packers fans can surely relate after Green Bay traded up in the first round to draft QB Jordan Love out of Utah State with the intention of grooming him to be Rodgers' eventual replacement.
You should know: The Packers lead the all-time series 27-15, but the Eagles have a 2-1 advantage in postseason matchups.
WEEK 14 | AT DETROIT
Date: Dec. 13
You should know: Before last season's Week 17 win over the Lions (above), the Packers had lost the previous two meetings at Ford Field by a combined 32 points. Green Bay's previous win in Detroit came on Jan. 1, 2017, in the final game of the 2016 season as the Packers were in the midst of an eight-game winning streak that spanned the regular season and playoffs and ended when they fell to the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.
WEEK 15 | VS. CAROLINA
Date: Dec. 19 or 20 (Saturday or Sunday)
Last meeting: The Packers held off the Panthers, 24-16, in Week 10 last season at Lambeau Field on Nov. 10, 2019, to improve to 8-2 entering their bye week. Adams, after struggling in his first game back after missing a month due to a turf-toe injury, was back to his usual self, finishing with 118 yards on seven catches. Rodgers failed to throw a touchdown pass in the victory, but running back Aaron Jones (above) had three rushing touchdowns.
Player to watch: The Panthers got a monster at defensive tackle with their first pick in this year's draft, taking Derrick Brown out of Auburn. The 6-foot-5, 325-pound Brown earned unanimous All-American honors in his senior year and finished his four-year career with the Tigers totaling 170 tackles and 13 sacks.
You should know: The Packers are 9-6 all time against the Panthers, but they dropped the last two matchups, both on the road, before last season's victory at Lambeau.
WEEK 16 | VS. TENNESSEE
Date: Dec. 27
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Last meeting: The Packers haven't faced the Titans in four seasons, which should hopefully have been enough time to forget the teams' last matchup. In Week 10 of the 2016 season, Green Bay was hammered in Tennessee as the Titans rolled to a 47-25 victory on Nov. 13, 2016. Rodgers (above) threw the ball 51 times, but struggled, completing 31 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns while throwing two interceptions and getting sacked five times for a loss of 46 yards.
Player to watch: Tennessee running back Derrick Henry, entering his fifth NFL season, is looking to build on his career year when he led the league in rushing yards with 1,540 and also posted career highs in carries (303) and rushing average (102.7 yards per game). Henry, who was franchised tagged this offseason, is one of the favorites to lead the league in rushing again this season.
You should know: The Packers, who trail the all-time series 5-7, have lost four of their last five games against the Titans, with their sole win in that span a 55-7 drubbing in Green Bay on Dec. 23, 2012.
WEEK 17 | AT CHICAGO
Date: Jan. 3
You should know: The last time the Packers and Bears faced off in Week 17 came in 2013, when Green Bay defeated Chicago, 33-28, to finish the regular season with an 8-7-1 record. Rodgers, in his first game back since fracturing his collarbone against the Bears in Week 9 that season, engineered a comeback at Soldier Field, scrambling on fourth-and-eight to find Randall Cobb (above) for a 48-yard touchdown in the final minute to put the Packers over the top and into the playoffs.