The learning curve has been steep for the Green Bay Packers’ group of young wide receivers, and that’s putting it mildly. However, if you need to borrow some confidence for the remainder of the season, then look no further than wide receivers coach Jason Vrable, who has some to spare.
“I really believe that on offense, we are taking the right trajectory at practice,” said Vrable on Thursday. “If you’re there and you’re watching the whole thing, I feel like the last two weeks were the best practices we’ve had in our room since I’ve ever been in this building. From the speed. The confidence and the results, I think they’re going to start coming.”
Among the litany of issues that the Packers offense is experiencing this season, the lack of consistency – again, putting it mildly – at the receiver position is close to, if not at the top of the list.
Running the wrong routes, dropped passes, and a failure in contested catch situations have plagued the Packers’ receiver room this season. Not being in the right place at the right time has likely played a role in Jordan Love’s regression in his decisiveness as a decision-maker–it’s hard to let it rip when you don’t know if your receiver is going to be where they need to be or make the catch.
As a team, the Packers rank seventh in drop rate this season. In contested catch situations, essentially 50/50 balls, the receivers are just 9-for-43. Jayden Reed, who leads the team in receiving yards with 314, ranks 51st in that category among all receivers this season.
“The results haven’t been there,” said Vrable, “and there was a time when we had a little bit of a lull. I think the lights at times were all over the place with stuff. But the last two weeks have been clean practices.
“The guys are on their details and guys at the right spot at the right time for Jordan because I don’t want him to look out there thinking a guy has to be there at 10 yards and he’s at 12 or he’s at 14. We can’t be having that stuff, and it’s happened at times, and that may not make Jordan as confident.”
You won’t catch any players or coaches on this Packers team using the inexperience on offense, particularly at receiver, as an excuse for the repeated issues this unit has experienced this season. But with that said, we would be naive to think that it isn’t a factor–of course it is, whether you want to talk about it or not.
A heavy use of zone coverages from opponents in recent weeks, along with the disguising of coverages, has given these young Packers receivers fits. Only so much can be game planned for, and when the defense throws an unscouted look at this group, it’s throwing off the timing and precision of the routes–or, in short, they aren’t in the right spot at the right time. Preparation is great and a necessity, but part of the chess match is you never quite know what an opponent is going to throw at you. And until a young player experiences a new look live in the heat of battle, as the old saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know.
”When you have a lot of young guys,” added Vrable, “I think that what happens is some things are new for them. I almost say it’s like learning a new language at times. They’ve never learned this stuff before. They might have repped it in the spring a couple times, but with live bullets, the coverage changes. If it was man coverage and we’ve got this route, this is great, we’re just running away from a guy, I got a win. But now you get different coverages, different leverages, different looks. It’s new for them.
“Some guys, when it’s new, they play through it. They play with confidence. Other guys, you can see, maybe their vision, their eyes, their confidence might not be there. That’s what practice habits and your growth.”
The genesis of Vrable’s confidence is from what he’s seen take place on the practice field over the last two weeks. Some of those finer details are being ironed out, along with, on Thursday of this week, the starting offense competed against the starting defense – a somewhat uncommon practice in the NFL during this time of the year – and logged some wins. Those victories, even in practice, help build confidence, a key element behind any young player’s success.
”I told the guys we’re this close,” said Vrable. “We’re winning on some routes. We’re starting to play clean. We’re starting to play faster. More confident, and we’ve got to come down with the rock. Like I said, I really believe, and I’m feeling full confidence in our group going forward. I think they’re starting to as well.
“Understanding how to win at the NFL level. What it takes every single week, and they’re competing. Right now, we’ve got four or five guys that I feel great about going into the last stretch of the season and make a run at this thing.”
Given how the season has played out up to this point, your likely skepticism reading this is well noted. At this stage of the game, given how the last month has transpired with often the same errors occurring over and over, this Packers’ offense and the receivers have to showcase these progressions on Sundays before I’d guess that many outside of the building fully buy into what Vrable is sharing.
Before success can happen on Sundays, it first needs to take place on the practice field and then be translated over. We are still waiting on the second part of that equation, but from Vrable’s perspective, the first part is beginning to happen more frequently as the comfortability and confidence of these receivers grows.
”It’s our work ethic,” Vrable said. “It’s our details. The laser focus. There’s so many things that go into it. You’ve got to know this offense like the back of your hand, and you’ve got to be there for the quarterback so he can throw in rhythm.
“We’ve got to be in the right spot at the right time. We’ve got to go get YAC. We’ve got to come down with the rock. There’s no miracle that can just go out there except being through it. Practice has to be game-like. It has to be fast. It has to be efficient. It has to be the same exact route and at the same depth you run it in a game but at full speed. And you’ve got to do it over and over and over again. “