GREEN BAY — There will be nothing special about the Green Bay Packers’ Thursday training camp practice except its location: Lambeau Field.
Yes, with COVID-19 forcing NFL teams to play before empty or near-empty stadiums at least to start the 2020 season, coach Matt LaFleur is moving three practices from their usual location of Ray Nitschke Field to the venerable stadium, hoping to acclimate his guys to the bizarre feeling they’ll experience playing in front of nobody.
“It’s going to be a typical practice,” LaFleur said during his Zoom video conference call with reporters following Wednesday’s practice — held at its usual location.
“(I) just want to put ‘em in the environment that these guys are going to have to get accustomed to pretty quickly here in a few weeks in terms with playing with no fans. So, I thought it would be a good opportunity. We’re going to do this two other times just to get our guys acclimated to that setting.”
The Packers are set to open regular-season play on Sept. 13 at Minnesota, with their first home game set for Sept. 20 against Detroit. The Packers have already announced that their first two home games will be played without fans while holding out hope they can have some fans in attendance starting with their third home game, on Nov. 1 against the Vikings.
Asked if he thinks it will be beneficial to practice inside the empty stadium in preparation for games to be played that way, veteran defensive end Dean Lowry replied, “It’s our first time being in Lambeau in a long time, so I think just getting used to the field, getting used to the environment — and yeah, also getting used to not having fans. The big thing there is communication, just making sure we’re being smart about what we’re doing, making sure we’re getting our calls in.
“It is different. The main thing also we’re focusing on is bringing our own energy and juice to practice and to games. That’s a big part of our focus during training camp.”
One thing LaFleur admitted he can’t simulate is how much pre-recorded noise will be piped into the otherwise empty stadiums. He indicated the NFL has not yet informed clubs how much fake noise will be allowed during games.
“I’ll be interested to see what that ambient noise is that the NFL is going to give to us — hopefully sooner than later,” LaFleur said. “You look at it from a defensive perspective when you’re at home and the crowd is super loud, it makes it tough on an offense. Just the energy that the fans bring – especially our fans — I thought they did a tremendous job last year of being loud and bringing us a lot of energy. So the guys are going to have to dig deep within themselves and find that energy to go out there and play.”
Getting a scare
Even though they somehow managed to go 4-0 in the games he missed with a toe injury last season, the Packers’ collective hearts were in their throats when star wide receiver Davante Adams limped off the field and into the Don Hutson Center with an apparent right foot injury at the end of an 11-on-11 play roughly halfway through practice.
Adams and safety Adrian Amos went up for a deep downfield ball thrown by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and while Amos came down with his second interception of camp, Adams went down and stayed down before being helped off by head athletic trainer Bryan “Flea” Engel. Adams appeared to be in a lot of pain but managed to come back later during the without-pads jog-through session at the end of practice.
“Anytime whether it’s Davante, or any other player, you know, you see a guy go down and certainly it leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” LaFleur said. “But at the same time, the show’s going to go on and it’s a next-man-up mentality. And fortunately for us, he’s going to be just fine.”
Franchise left tackle David Bakhtiari, meanwhile, was back at practice after dropping out of Tuesday’s session with a foot injury. Bakhtiari didn’t do the in-pads 11-on-11 work but took part in the jog-through session with Adams. Tight end Marcedes Lewis (veteran rest) and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (undisclosed) had the day off but aren’t of concern.
“We want to be smart with these guys, especially a guy like ‘Cedes,” LaFleur said. “We gave him some veteran days last year and we’re going to continue to do the same throughout camp and just want to make sure he’s ready for Week 1.”
With long-snapper Hunter Bradley coming off the COVID-19 reserve list, the Packers waived two players Wednesday: Wide receiver Travis Fulgham and offensive lineman Travis Bruffy. Fulgham had just been claimed off waivers last week. … LaFleur acknowledged what has been obvious through four days of practice: Offensive players are dropping far too many passes. “I definitely think we’ve had more drops,” LaFleur said. “(But) I think that’s to be expected. These guys didn’t have an offseason, and certainly that’s something we’re addressing. We’re making sure our guys are getting those ball drills in post-practice.” … Fun-loving running back Jamaal Williams conducted his first Zoom call with reporters wearing a face covering that depicted the comic book villain The Joker on the front. … Williams said he’s holding off on giving fellow running back Aaron Jones a gift for his newborn son. “I want my ‘nephew’ to grow up first before I give him his present,” Williams said. “It’s going to be a tricycle or something, something better. I told him to get the trampoline. He got the trampoline so he could start working on his balance. I’ll tell you, that’s the key toy you need for your baby is a trampoline. Get that balance going.”
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