Packers’ rookie camp offers glimpse of talent

By Chris Havel

Green Bay’s offense got a slot receiver, trio of offensive linemen to build depth

GREEN BAY, Wis. -In the aftermath of Green Bay’s 2021 NFL draft, the reality is the Packers’ top-ranked offense has a chance to be even more explosive this season.

That lofty goal became a possibility when Green Bay re-signed running back Aaron Jones earlier this offseason in free agency.

Jones, 26, is a rarity in that he’s a terrific player with room to improve.

Jones has 43 touchdowns (37 rushing, six receiving) in 42 career starts. He also has five touchdowns in four post-season games. He needs just 10 touchdowns this season to move into a tie with Greg Jennings for 10th on the Packers’ all-time touchdown list.

Clearly, the Packers need the other “Aaron” – quarterback Aaron Rodgers – to return if the offense is going to eclipse the 31.8 points per game it averaged in 2020.

If that happens opposing defenses could be in for a long season – and I’m not talking about the additional 17th game.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, when asked for a Rodgers update last Friday, said he had nothing new to report.

“I’ve not nothing new to update, and we still obviously feel the same way,” he said. “We want him back in the worst way. I know he knows that, and we’ll continue to work at it each and every day.”

Meantime, let’s take a post-draft, position-by-position glimpse at the offense, beginning with the quarterbacks.

Second-year pro Jordan Love should be motivated beyond belief. He has an opportunity to get a majority of the snaps this offseason while Rodgers and the Packers continue to negotiate.

Recently signed veteran Blake Bortles’ resume is impressive.

Bortles, 29, has 73 career starts including a big season in 2015 (35 TDs, 18 INTs, 4,428 yards) and again in 2017 (21 TDs, 13 INTs) when he led the 10-6 Jaguars to a pair of post-season victories.

He also brings experience in the offense: He worked with Packers’ offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett in Jacksonville. Bortles’ task is to execute in practice so the rest of the offense can adequately prepare.

LaFleur was asked if he planned to prepare Love as if he was the starter.

“I’m not going to make any assumptions about anything at this point,” LaFleur replied. “We’re just going to take it day by day, but every player on our roster has got to have the mentality that they’re going to be the guy. If not, when you do get your opportunity, you will not be prepared for it. So that is always what we stress to every player on this team.”

Kurt Benkert joins Rodgers, Love and Bortles as the fourth arm in camp.

The tight end position is loaded.

Robert Tonyan’s emergence as the go-to guy proved to be a significant upgrade from Jimmy Graham. Tonyan finished with 52 catches (on just 59 targets) for an 11.3 yards-per-catch average and 11 touchdowns.

Promising second-year tight end Josiah Deguara returns after an ACL tear ended his 2020 season. He should give head coach Matt LaFleur the option to go with a two-tight end alignment whenever he sees fit.

Veteran Marcedes Lewis and holdover Jace Sternberger provide depth.

The accomplished tight end group works hand-in-hand with the offensive line to facilitate third-down conversions, open holes in the run game and protect the passer.

The Packers were among the NFL’s best in each of those critical categories and could be even better in 2021.

Why? That’s due in large part to this year’s draft class.

The offensive line – while it awaits the return of Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari from injury – has been infused with youth and talent.

Ohio State center Josh Myers was selected in the second round to replace All-Pro Corey Linsley, who left in free agency. Myers (6-5, 312) looks more like a tackle than a center, but his agility and athleticism suggest he’ll be the Packers’ center for the foreseeable future.

Ole Miss tackle/guard Royce Newman, another versatile prospect, will be in the conversation at both positions. If Newman shows promise in training camp, he’ll be a candidate to start at right tackle. That would allow veteran Billy Turner to handle left tackle until Bakhtiari’s return.

Wisconsin’s Cole Van Lanen, a sixth-round pick from Green Bay, offers quality depth in the interior.

The running back group is led by Jones and second-year rookie A.J. Dillon, who might be described as lightning and thunder.

It will be interesting to see if the Packers keep Patrick Taylor or rookie Kylin Hill as the team’s No. 3 back. Taylor has great size and speed to go with soft hands, while Hill was a workhorse at Mississippi State. Hill’s rather pedestrian 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash is countered by good instincts, vision and the ability to catch the football.

Davante Adams leads a receiving corps that added a much-needed weapon by selecting Clemson’s Amari Rodgers in the third round. Rodgers (5-9, 212) is built like a running back with receiver’s hands.

“He’s a well-built kid,” LaFleur said. “He looks like a grown man. He has that big, running back, thick frame. Then you watch him run routes and he doesn’t move like most traditional running backs. We’re really excited about just the versatility that he could potentially bring to our offense and also his contribution on special teams.”

Amari Rodgers is an accomplished, sure-handed punt and kick returner.

His size and skillset offers variety when compared with Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and Devin Funchess.

It’s amazing to consider what a happy, motivated Aaron Rodgers could do with this offense around him. The sky’s the limit and that includes a trip to the Super Bowl.

For now, though, there’s nothing for hopeful Packers fans to do but wait for their future Hall of Fame quarterback to get on board in Green Bay.