packers.com digital reporter
INDIANAPOLIS – Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst addressed Green Bay media on Tuesday morning at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Here are five things we learned:
1. The Packers are giving Aaron Rodgers time, and they’re confident in Jordan Love‘s development.
Gutekunst said he’s had some text communication with Rodgers since the season ended, but nothing regarding the four-time MVP quarterback on his plan for 2023.
The Packers are hopeful to have some answers before the start of free agency in mid-March but there’s no formal deadline on the situation. Once Rodgers makes a decision on whether to embark on a 19th NFL season, Gutekunst says the two sides will reconvene and determine the next step.
The Packers and Rodgers agreed to a contract extension last year that was structured with Rodgers’ future in mind.
“I think with a player who’s played as long as Aaron has, and as we’ve gone the last few years, we realized for him it’s been a year-to-year type of proposition,” Gutekunst said. “I think we’ve known that moving forward, that last year when we did the contract it was going to be year to year. That’s kind of where we’re at.”
Green Bay also has stayed in communication with backup quarterback Love and his representatives this offseason. The former first-round pick made significant progress in this third season with the Packers, including an encouraging relief appearance against eventual Super Bowl participant Philadelphia this past November.
Love, stepping in for an injured Rodgers, completed 6-of-9 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles. Asked Tuesday whether Love is ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, Gutekunst definitively replied, “Absolutely.”
“I think he’s ready for that,” Gutekunst said. “Not every quarterback comes into this league ready to go out there and play. I think he needed a little time but over the last year and a half or so, we’ve seen that’s the next step in his progression. He needs to go out and play.”
Whoever lines up at quarterback next season, Gutekunst said the goal remains “doing what’s best for the Green Bay Packers in the moment and then just moving forward.”
One thing Gutekunst feels certain about is the offensive foundation that’s in place regardless of who’s under center, with running back Aaron Jones
Of course, all roads begin with the 39-year-old Rodgers and determining the best path forward – a collaborative decision Gutekunst says the organization and quarterback will come to when the time is right.
“Until we have those conversations, I think all options are on the table right now,” Gutekunst said. “We really need to have those conversations. We want what’s best for the Green Bay Packers, what’s best for Aaron. So, we’ll get to that once those conversations happen.”
2. Green Bay expects Rashan Gary to make a “full recovery” from knee injury.
The Packers have received positive reports on their burgeoning pass rusher, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 9 at Detroit.
Gutekunst said Gary has been splitting his rehab between Atlanta and Texas but occasionally has been back in Green Bay to check in with team doctors and the training staff.
The 25-year-old linebacker was on a Pro Bowl trek before the knee injury, leading the defense with 12 quarterback hits and six sacks through the first nine games.
“He’s going to attack this thing like he plays,” said Gutekunst of Gary’s rehab. “(Head athletic trainer Bryan Engel) and his guys have been in constant communication with him. He was here a few weeks after the season ended before he left. We expect full recovery and hopefully we’ll ease him back into it like we always do in camp. We’re very optimistic there.”
Gary’s absence over the final seven games was noticeable. While contributions from rookie Kingsley Enagbare and Justin Hollins took some of the burden off the shoulders of Preston Smith, Green Bay had to adjust its pass rush without Gary.
“I’m kind of an old-school guy, it all starts up front with the pass rush,” Gutekunst said. “When we lost Rashan that took a lot of resources to make sure we could get a pass rush.”
3. The secondary situation remains fluid; Rasul Douglas could be an option at safety.
The Packers don’t know exactly what form their starting secondary will take in 2023 but Gutekunst remains confident in the group’s potential.
Jaire Alexander is coming off his second All-Pro season, Rasul Douglas finished strong after moving from the slot to the perimeter during the second half, and safety Darnell Savage bounced back in a big way against Minnesota on New Year’s Day after some midseason turbulence.
There are some questions, though, with Eric Stokes on the mend from a season-ending knee/ankle injury and Adrian Amos and Keisean Nixon both pending free agents. However the secondary shakes out, Gutekunst likes the possibilities.
“Obviously there’s a lot of versatility there, which we really like,” Gutekunst said. “I think Rasul, when he was inside, he was getting his feet wet and learning and then obviously Stokes got hurt and we had to move him back outside.
“It’s really a nickel league now so what’s the best five we have and how that fits, I think we’ll get to by the time the games roll around, but I don’t know how that’s going to fit right now.”
Gutekunst isn’t ruling out the possibility of Douglas possibly moving to safety or Savage continuing to play closer to the line of scrimmage like he did at the end of last season, whether that’s as a strong safety or nickel cornerback.
“(Douglas) has such good eyes and instincts when he’s back there and seeing the whole field,” Gutekunst said. “Anytime you move a guy inside, whether it’s the nickel or the safety, and you have both sides you really have to worry about, there’s a curve there that’s going to take some time to really understand that. But his skill set as far as his eyes, his ability to go get the ball, his angles, his instincts and he’s a pretty good tackler, too, he could make that transition if that’s what we decided to do.”
Green Bay does know it’ll have a new face in the secondary room, with former Arizona cornerbacks coach Greg Williams replacing Jerry Gray as defensive pass game coordinator. Gray recently was named the assistant head coach under Arthur Smith in Atlanta.
4. The Packers were happy to retain Aaron Jones.
Green Bay always knew this offseason would be a pivotal point in deciding what would happen with Jones, who’s entering the third year of the contract extension he signed with the club in 2021.
With Jones coming off another strong season, the two sides agreed earlier this month to a restructured contract that ensures the Pro Bowl running back will return for a seventh season.
Jones, 28, started all 17 games this season and led the team with a career-high 1,121 rushing yards and two TDs on 213 carries (5.3 avg.). Among running backs, Jones ranked No. 9 in the NFL in rushing yards and No. 2 in yards per carry. He also tied for No. 2 in the NFL with three games of 130-plus rushing yards on the season.
“A huge debt of gratitude for him doing some of the things to stay here with us,” Gutekunst said. “He’s obviously one of our most dynamic players, playmakers. We knew when we signed him a few years ago that after the second year, there would be a little bit of a time here where we’d have to make a decision. We’re just really, really excited to get him back.”
5. Gutekunst believes Mason Crosby still has a lot left in the tank.
As soon as the 2022 campaign ended, the Packers’ all-time leading scorer made it known he plans to return for a 17th NFL season. The question now is whether that’ll come in Green Bay.
Crosby, who’ll turn 39 in September, extended his franchise record for consecutive regular-season games played to 258 this past season but it came after he underwent a knee scope in the summer that caused him to miss most of training camp. Crosby also dealt with an in-season back injury that landed him on the injury report for a couple weeks.
Crosby still made 25 of 29 field goals (86.2%) this past season. When asked about Crosby’s leg strength on Tuesday, Gutekunst said he believes the veteran kicker still has what it takes to kick in Green Bay’s tough elements if he returns.
“He went through a pretty significant little injury right before the season started,” Gutekunst said. “I don’t know if he was ever really able to completely catch up because of what we were asking him to do. He had to go out there and kick for us right away. So, I think it’s a credit to him.
“To be able to kick in Lambeau Field in clutch situations, I mean any new kicker, that’s gonna be tough for those guys. That takes time and Mason has that. He has that experience. I think you’ll see a stronger leg and a different power in his leg on kickoffs this coming year just because he won’t be coming off that surgery.”
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