After a year without preseason games, the NFL starts the 2021 season with a new three-game version. For a team like the Green Bay Packers, with their strong sense of continuity from year to year, preseason wasn’t all that exciting. Aaron Rodgers would play few, if any, minutes.
Yet the 2021 preseason is one of the most important preseasons for the Packers in recent years. With a potential QB controversy, a new defensive scheme, and a new special teams coordinator, these exhibition games are vital in 2021.
Regardless of Aaron Rodgers’ status, the preseason games are Jordan Love’s chance to show where he’s at in his development. With Covid-19 halting team activities and 2020’s preseason, Love didn’t have the opportunity to meld into the Packers offense or play against NFL opponents. After sitting on the bench as QB3 for the season and being the subject of many unflattering conversations, Love gets his chance to speak back.
Even if Rodgers returns to the QB1 spot, these live games will give the Packers their first true looks at where Jordan Love is right now as a quarterback. The Packers retain their offensive weapons from last season, and LaFleur’s offense is meant to make life easier for the quarterbacks. For now, the spotlight is his; Love just has to make the most of it.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers hope to replicate the success Joe Barry had as part of the Staley system in Los Angeles, itself a version of the Vic Fangio defense. While the Packers kept most of their defensive position coaches, allowing some continuity, it means new language, new concepts, and mental retraining.
Throwing a brand new defense out for the first time in Week 1 is asking for trouble. The preseason games allow the players to put what they’ve learned into practice to see what works and what doesn’t. While this sounds obvious, last year there would have been no opportunity to ease in.
While Chandon Sullivan is the favorite going into training camp, Barry has expressed how important the “Star” role is to his defense and will want to test as many players there as possible. The Packers will also want to find the best ways to get Jaire Alexander, Kevin King, and Eric Stokes on the field at the same time. The preseason period is the best time to experiment, instead of doing silly things like throwing Preston Smith into coverage out of nowhere.
Expect to see the defensive starters in action more this preseason.
Finally, while the biggest boon of preseason is generally to find those bottom of the roster players and special teamers, it is especially important this year. Maurice Drayton is taking over one of the worst special teams units in 2020 and needs to get his punter, long snapper, gunners, and entire return team into shape. Basically, every aspect of the unit except for Mason Crosby needs improvement.
While the Packers’ offense remains the same, the quarterback position has questions, and the defense and special teams will have a shiny new look. Had these changes occurred last year, the Packers would have faced many challenges adjusting, but the return of the preseason is a boon for the Packers’ current needs. 2021 presents a lot of challenges and adjustments for the team, which should make a more exciting preseason than past years.Matt Hendershott is a Packers fan and Miller High Life enthusiast from Northwest Ohio. He has a Master of Arts in Media and Communication from Bowling Green State University. You can follow him on Twitter @MattHendershott.