GREEN BAY—With flags flying as the NFL officials continued to emphasize illegal contact and defensive holding fouls at Packers training camp on Friday, a thought occurred to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“I was joking with this crew that we might want them to head up to the Pacific Northwest in about a month,” Rodgers said, referring of course to the Green Bay vs. Seattle kickoff opener on Sept. 4.
There’s a theory that the physical play in the secondary employed by the Super Bowl champion Seahawks is as big a reason as any for the rules emphasis. True or not, if Friday’s practice was any indication, it could be an ugly preseason for defensive backs.
In the one-on-one drill with wide receivers, “it was raining flags out there,” as veteran cornerback Tramon Williams described it. Flags were thrown on well over half the snaps, as any contact beyond five yards, or the slightest tug of any jersey, was getting called. The flags were reduced somewhat during the 11-on-11 periods, but they were still fairly frequent.
“I think you’re going to see the passing game reffed a little more tightly this year,” Rodgers said, in perhaps the understatement of training camp.
Williams said when the defensive backs met with the officials on Thursday, they were under the impression there would be just as much emphasis on offensive pass interference – receivers initiating contact and pushing off – as on the defensive fouls. That’s what the officials told the media as well, but in Williams’ view that’s not how practice played out.
“They’re warning us right now,” he said. “Obviously, we have to make adjustments to it, and it’s going to be an adjustment period, but how much can we really change? That’s the question.”
The other question is whether the emphasis will be heavy-handed in the preseason and early stages of the regular season but will diminish as the year goes on. Maybe, but then again, maybe not.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy noted the rules haven’t changed, but with an emphasis coming from the league office, any “gray area” is going to get flagged. Saturday’s “Family Night” practice will be the last the Packers see of the officials until their first preseason game at Tennessee on Aug. 9.
“At the end of the day, you have to keep playing with good technique,” McCarthy said. “We know what the rules are.”
If secondaries don’t adjust, get ready for “a six-hour game,” Williams joked, at the same time recognizing the officials have bosses to answer to, just as players have coaches making demands of them. “In reality, it’s not fair, but they do have a job to do.”
One of Rodgers’ jobs at this time of year is getting on the same page with the young wide receivers fighting for roster spots, of which there are plenty in this camp.
While backup quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien get most of the snaps when the younger wideouts are in, Rodgers takes a few here and there, and there’s a specific way receivers coach Edgar Bennett’s charges can earn his trust.
“It’s about one thing – it’s about mental preparation,” Rodgers said. “The physical mistakes are going to happen, … but if you cannot line up right, if you can’t get the checks and if you can’t do what you’re supposed to do every time, then there’s no way you can possibly be on the field when I’m out there.
“Those guys understand that. I’m very demanding in that way. I have high expectations for them in their mental preparation, just like Edgar does. Edgar drills those guys every day about every position.”
One of those young receivers, fifth-round draft pick Jared Abbrederis, was sidelined on Friday with a knee injury. At the time of his post-practice press conference, McCarthy didn’t have any information on the severity of that injury, nor on fellow rookie Corey Linsley’s shoulder injury. McCarthy said he hopes rookie receiver Jeff Janis (illness) might begin practicing soon.
As expected, second-round pick Davante Adams has been the most impressive of the young receiving crop, and he had two touchdown grabs in red-zone work on Friday. On the second, though, a frustrated defense was barking at the officials that Adams pushed off on cornerback Jumal Rolle in the end zone.
Alex Gillett followed up his highlight-reel catch on Thursday with a couple more productive plays on Friday, while Myles White has rebounded from some struggles fielding punts to look far more sure-handed running routes. Chris Harper also has had his ups and downs through the first week, while newly acquired Gerrard Sheppard announced his arrival by hauling in a deep ball from Rodgers in a one-on-one rep against rookie corner Ryan White.
“It’s a deep group and they know there are jobs up for grabs,” Rodgers said. “There are a lot of opportunities to be had in that room, and they’re going to have some really good guys throwing them the football.
“If you’re consistently in the right place at the right time, you can’t help but make plays. The ball is going to find you, because we throw it to the open guy in this offense.” Additional coverage - Aug. 1