Packers' Jordan Love shows signs of progress even without top receivers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Running back Aaron Jones noticed the difference in the huddle. Anyone watching practice saw it when the ball left his hand. What they heard and what they saw was Jordan Love 2.0, and as QB1.

Love might not be the Green Bay Packers' ideal choice to start when the regular season opens on Sept. 12 at the New Orleans Saints -- and the Packers still hope they can lure back the disenchanted Aaron Rodgers and not have to play Love this season. But the quarterback who ran what was left of the No. 1 offense this week during OTAs looked much different than the third-stringer who crawled through his rookie season in 2020.

“You can tell he’s just a lot more comfortable out there, even from communicating in the huddle to the command of the huddle to just everything,” Jones said after Tuesday’s practice that was open to the media. “He’s had a year under his belt, he’s had time to watch and learn, so you can tell it’s a little bit different from what it was before. He’s going to continue to grow, and I’m happy to be here working with him.”

During individual drills, Love found the throwing nets more often than he did last season and zipped the ball with a higher velocity. The highlight during those periods was a throw that traveled 35 yards in the air and landed in the outstretched hands of tight end Robert Tonyan.

In the 7-on-7 periods, Love completed 14 of 20 passes. Most of them were short-to-medium throws often working through his progressions. That could be viewed one of two ways: Either he wasn’t comfortable enough to find his primary reads or he’s learned patience.

There’s always this caveat with a practice in May: It was in helmets and shorts against no pass rush and with players barely operating at practice speed, let alone game speed.

“He’s definitely matured over the course of the year,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “You can tell that he’s put in the time this offseason, not only just lifting and running and coming in in good football shape, but also you can tell he’s put in the time in his craft in trying to continue to work on his mechanics, his fundamentals that are so critical to playing the position at the highest level possible.

“So he’s still got a lot to learn. I think he can tell you that, but he’s going to take it one day at a time. He goes out there with purpose. I like his mindset right now.”

The Packers did not make Love available to reporters this week. Their next open OTA and availability is Wednesday.

It didn’t help Love that none of the Packers’ top receivers practiced. Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and Devin Funchess -- likely the top five on the receiver depth chart -- all were absent on the day the Packers allowed reporters into practice.

It seemed like too big of a coincidence that of the 10 players not in attendance, five were the top receivers, begging the question of whether it was a coordinated show of support for Rodgers.

“I really don’t know,” LaFleur said when asked about that theory. “I’ve had individual conversations with each guy, but never once has that come up.”

Love was left to work with the likes of Malik Taylor, who caught five passes for 66 yards and a touchdown last season, and Reggie Begelton, who played in one game last season. Love aired out a deep ball to Begelton during one of the 7-on-7 drills, but Begelton couldn’t run it down.

Love’s favorite target might have been rookie third-round pick Amari Rodgers, a slot target seemingly well suited for the short passing game he has favored.

“Right now, I think even as we're scripting [plays], we're less concerned about trying to put maybe the perfect person in position like we would in a game-plan situation,” LaFleur said. “It's more about just making sure that we're putting Jordan in situations so he can continue to progress. Like I said, we evaluate it every day, just certain areas that we might think he may need a little more work at. Those guys have done a great job and the assistant coaches have done a heck of a job. They're doing a great job of putting together great plans and so I've been pretty pleased with the first two days.”

With recently signed Blake Bortles watching from the sideline for undisclosed reasons, Love took all of the No. 1 quarterback reps -- a big jump from where he was last season as the third-stringer behind Rodgers and Tim Boyle.

When asked for the defense’s perspective on Love, safety Adrian Amos seemed more concerned about learning coordinator Joe Barry’s system rather than trying to test Love.

“We don’t go out there like, ‘Oh, we’re going out here to make Jordan better.’ We’re going out there to make us better,” Amos said. “We’re going out there to dominate and then from that, the offense will get better because we’re out there trying to dominate.”