A Love package? A run defense fix? Packers answer key questions

NFL

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers made their three coordinators – Nathaniel Hackett (offense), Mike Pettine (defense) and Shawn Mennenga (special teams) – available via Zoom calls on Friday. It was the first time they spoke to reporters since the week leading up to the NFC Championship Game loss at the San Francisco 49ers.

Here’s a look at a key issue each coordinator addressed:

A Jordan Love package?

Yes, Jordan Love’s primary assignment will be to learn from Aaron Rodgers and prepare as the heir apparent, but ever since the Packers drafted the athletic quarterback in the first round, there’s been speculation that coach Matt LaFleur and Hackett might devise a Taysom Hill-like package for Love right away.

“I think everything’s still so early to tell,” Hackett said. “Haven’t even really gotten to sit in a meeting room at Lambeau. I haven’t gotten to talk with him much or work face to face. I think there’s so much yet to be seen. You never know. Anything can happen.”

The bigger question is how does the staff handle winning now with Rodgers and preparing Love for the future.

“The coaches’ world is always game by game,” Hackett said. “Every single thing that we look at, we are always looking to try to accomplish that win each week. That’s the only thing that matters to us. The future is something that might be in the back of our mind, but we always live in the moment. That’s usually how we’re all judged. But at the same time, anything can happen at any moment within a game, that’s what makes the same so much fun. So you’ve got to prepare everybody like they’re a starter and they’ve got to go in there and play. So it’s about winning. It’s about Aaron Rodgers going out there and winning a football game and then Jordan’s going to just have to continually learn and continue to be a good sponge.”

What happens if someone copycats the 49ers run-heavy game plan?

The Packers gave up 285 yard rushing to the 49ers, who threw it only eight times in the NFC title game. Then in free agency after inside linebacker Blake Martinez signed with the Giants, the Packers’ tackling leader told reporters on a conference call suggested the Packers lacked gap responsibility, saying, “There wasn’t any gap responsibilities for me. It was just, ‘Hey, play off Kenny (Clark), play off Za’Darius (Smith), play off Preston (Smith), play off Dean (Lowry),’ play off these guys and basically make them right.” Pettine did not think that was the issue.

Nor does he think teams will mimic the 49ers’ game plan.

“Well first of all, the 49ers, to go with the scheme, they have the roster; that’s a big part of it,” Pettine said. “We had teams that came in and tried to establish the run against us and very quickly had to go another direction. I want to say what happened in the game and unfortunately it’s because of the scope of it and what a big game it was and what a big stage, it was, that’s not the norm for us. It’s the exception, and that’s the tough part for us to deal with it.

“It was our worst performance at the worst time, but when things are right and things are clicking for us and guys have a good understanding of what they’re doing, we can stop the run as well as anybody else. If that’s what teams want to do, that’s fine. Not everybody’s built to do it that way. This is a passing league. I think the 49ers showed that they were a little bit of an exception doing it the way they did it. I just don’t see that many teams that are built to do that.”

Added Pettine: “No excuses, but we’re not going to let it be this dark cloud hanging over us, but we’re not going to sweep it under the carpet, either.”

Pettine also said he was never concerned about being fired after the NFC title game collapse even though coach Matt LaFleur didn’t necessarily back him publicly immediately after. “He and I had been full speed ahead,” Pettine said. “There was a little angst with my wife, but he and I had already reviewed the season and were very much on the same page.”

Tyler Ervin not just a special-teams weapon

Mennenga might not be the only coach who was thrilled that general manager Brian Gutekunst re-signed running back/kick returner Tyler Ervin, who returned on a one-year, $1.047 million deal ($137,500 signing bonus). Yes, Ervin helped the punt return do a 180 when he was claimed off waivers on Dec. 3. Yes, Ervin turned the return game from a negative, literally, into a positive. But late in the season and in the playoffs, the offensive coaches began to experiment with ways to use Ervin. He played 42 offensive snaps and ran the kind of motion that coach LaFleur likes to employ before the snap, some of it as misdirection and some as primary concepts. Ervin carried three times for 35 yards, including playoffs and caught three passes for 18 yards. Make no mistake, his primary role will be as a returner; he averaged 9.6 yards per punt return and 26.7 on kickoff returns in six regular season games.

“I was really excited to get him back,” Mennenga said. “I know when we did the postseason evaluations, he did provide a great spark. He’s great for our room, he’s a veteran, he’s got the veteran presence to him and has played in big games and played in playoff games, and he did provide that spark, so I was excited to get him back and hopefully continue to build on what we started last year. He was a great addition to us, not only on special teams, but he helped provide a spark for us on offense. I know they were creating some roles for him, so I thought that was big and really excited to get him back.”

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