Packers Hope Backup Quarterback Makes Major Jump In Year 3
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Memories are short.

And recent history can often muddy the entire picture.

That’s why it’s easy to forget that 15 years ago, Aaron Rodgers was in the same spot Jordan Love sits today.

In the spring of 2007, Rodgers was coming off two uninspiring seasons as the backup to future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre.

Rodgers looked lost as a rookie in 2005, when he had a brutal preseason and his regular season passer rating was a dismal 39.8.

“He looks like a bust to me,” one scout told me after Rodgers’ rookie year.

Rodgers showed little progress in 2006 when his passer rating was a paltry 48.2. He also spent the last six weeks of that season on injured reserve after breaking his foot.

As the 2007 season arrived, many across the NFL felt the Packers had wasted their 2005 first round pick on Rodgers. In fact, the only one in Green Bay with complete faith in Rodgers was No. 12 himself.

“I’ve just got to keep riding this out,” Rodgers said that summer. “I feel like I’m in a position to be very successful when my time comes.”

To the surprise of many, Rodgers was spot on.

He made monumental gains in the summer of 2007, became the starter when Favre retired in March, 2008, and the rest — as they say — is history. Today, Rodgers is the proud owner of four MVP’s, one Super Bowl title and several team records.

Interestingly, Love is in the exact same position today as Rodgers was back in 2007.

Love, a first-round draft pick in 2020, has had two lackluster seasons as Green Bay’s backup. He’s already been labeled a bust by many. And as long as Rodgers is around, Love knows he may never see the field in Green Bay.

But as the Packers continued their voluntary mini-camp this week — one that Rodgers opted not to attend — Love wasn’t worried about his first two seasons. He was focused on Year 3.

And interestingly, it was Rodgers himself who recently explained to Love how his own third-year jump set the stage for his eventual success in Green Bay.

“We’ve talked about that — plenty,” Love said. “Like you said, same situation that he was in.

“Really, he’s told me, just take these reps, act like I’m the guy, be the guy when he’s not here. He said the same thing. Favre wasn’t there (in 2007) and he was running the show, OTAs and all that. So he just said, ‘Take it and run with it.’ ”

Whether that’s possible or not remains unclear.

Love remains a unique physical talent, one that many NFL scouts believe would have been the first quarterback taken in April’s draft. Love (6-4, 219) has fantastic arm talent, can throw from several arm slots, has nifty touch on deep balls and has extremely large hands (10 ½ inches).

But many of the questions teams had on Love prior to the 2020 draft — decision making, accuracy, anticipation — still exist.

Love made one start last season when Rodgers was sidelined with COVID and struggled in a 13-7 loss at Kansas City. Love’s final numbers weren’t awful as he completed 19-of-34 for 190 yards with one touchdown and one interception. But the Packers were held scoreless until the final five minutes and couldn’t rally back.

“Obviously not good enough,” Love said of his performance that night.

Love’s other big chance to shine came in the regular season finale against Detroit.

Love played the entire second half, led the Packers to three scores and gave Green Bay a 30-27 lead with a late 62-yard touchdown pass to Josiah Deguara. But after Detroit took a 37-30 lead, Love threw a pair of interceptions in the final two minutes while trying to rally the Packers to a win.

“All we try to do is try to coach the quarterback on three things every play: decision making, timing and accuracy,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said that day. “With that, I think that’s all you can really do to help him be a consistent player, because I do think the foundation of quarterback play starts with those great fundamentals. So, we’ll continue to work with that, with him on every rep that he gets, whether it’s in a game or in practice.”

Love is getting that chance right now.

Although Rodgers was given a three-year, $150 million contract extension this offseason — and the Packers’ wide receiver group has been overhauled — the MVP quarterback decided mini-camp wasn’t for him. And Love is trying to make the most of the additional workload.

“I think that’s Aaron’s game plan is, he doesn’t really need this time right now, so I enjoy it,” Love said. “Him not being here, it just means more reps for me and more reps for everybody else in the quarterback room. So obviously I’m loving it.”

Wideout Randall Cobb is Rodgers’ best friend on the team. Cobb knows how vital this offseason work once was for Rodgers. And Cobb believes it’s paying dividends for Love, as well.

“I think the confidence is there. Just watching him process things a little bit quicker than he had before,” Cobb said of Love. “I always thought he threw a great ball, but it’s all about doing it with a defense in front of you and putting it in tight windows.

“We need OTAs for those looks so he gets more comfortable going up against defenses and not just as the scout-team quarterback but having an O-line in front of him and running backs and receivers with him.”

At this stage, there’s no way to predict how Love’s career will go.

If Rodgers plays out his contract in Green Bay, Love’s opportunity will have to come in another city. But Rodgers also seems year-to-year at this point — much like Favre was — and it wouldn’t shock anyone if he retired or asked to be traded after the 2022 season.

The Packers won the lottery with both Favre and Rodgers. The odds that they’ll do it again with Love are astronomical.

At the same time, Love is just 23 years old. And throwing in the towel on him after two years would be foolish.

“I feel really good about his ability to grow, and he’s going to have to do it,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said of Love. “I don’t think you ever really know that until you put him out there in 16-some games or whatever.

“You look at a lot of the really good quarterbacks in this league, and it’s usually midway through their second year where all of a sudden, you may see it but they’re not winning, then all of a sudden, they start to win. Again, the only way I think any players get better in this league is by playing, and they all need to play to get significantly better. But I am really excited for his development.”

Fifteen years ago, the Packers discovered that patience can indeed be a virtue when they rode out the rough times with Rodgers. Today, they’re doing the same with Love — and keeping their fingers crossed.

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