Change is coming to the Green Bay Packers. Rookie head coach Matt LaFleur confirmed that during a press conference this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The key question for the 2019 Packers will be how quickly the players adjust to these changes.
It’s been a long time since there was a new coach at 1265 Lombardi Avenue. Mike McCarthy took over as head coach in 2006 and the team has been running the same offensive system since then. It’s something the veteran players are comfortable and familiar with.
Enter Matt LaFleur. The offensive system LaFleur runs is different than McCarthy’s more traditional West Coast offense. LaFleur comes from the Kyle Shanahan school of play calling which places more of an emphasis on the running game and runs different plays from similar formations to create a split second of confusion for defenses and give the offense an advantage by creating favorable matchups.
LaFleur was straightforward with reporters about what was coming. “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. “There’s going to be some stuff that we ask you to do that’s not going to be comfortable right off the bat.’ We’ve got to attack it with an open mind and try it. I think that goes for coaches, players, everything.”
The player that will be the biggest key to these changes is quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has been running the old system so long he can probably do it in his sleep. Now, the 35-year-old future Hall of Famer will have to master a new playbook with new terminology, new reads and keys and a slightly different philosophy.
Rodgers is a very intelligent quarterback with an excellent memory for football. He remembers what plays have worked in the past and when he can call those plays again to gain an advantage. The quicker Rodgers gets comfortable with the new offense, the sooner he can use this knowledge to his advantage on the football field.
The Packers front office will also have to adjust. It will be up to GM Brian Gutekunst to provide LaFleur with the type of players he needs to make his system work. LaFleur needs some different types of players than McCarthy did.
Last season for example, the Packers didn’t have a fullback on their opening-day roster. Eventually, Green Bay signed Danny Vitale who was active for the final five games of the year. In the past, LaFleur’s offense has featured more two-back sets so Gutekunst will most likely add at least one more fullback to the roster to compete for the job in training camp.
LaFleur’s offense also features more two-tight end formations than McCarthy’s. One of the tight ends is frequently called on to run block. The Packers currently have two returning tight ends on their roster in veteran Jimmy Graham and second-year man Robert Tonyan. Neither of them is known for their blocking prowess. The Pack is expected to add a tight end early in the draft with many mock drafts predicting that Gutekunst will use one of the team’s two first-round picks on this position. Even if that prediction proves correct, expect the Packers to also add a blocking tight end in free agency or on the third day of the draft.
These are just two areas that will likely require some personnel changes to make LaFleur’s offense run efficiently.
The returning players will also have to adjust to a new system. The old cliché is that if you’re in your comfort zone, you’re not growing. The Packers players should have plenty of chances for growth in 2019 under the leadership of coach LaFleur.