The Green Bay Packers are officially signing up for another round of joint practice during next summer’s training camp, but they aren’t yet ready to pull back the curtain on which team will join them on the practice field.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur told reporters Tuesday during the NFL Scouting Combine the team would participate in joint practices again in 2020 after last year’s experience with the Houston Texans drew mixed reviews and, at one point, devolved into a scuffle between the two teams. LaFleur said he could not reveal which opponent would be joining them just yet but added they are currently “working through some details.”
The Packers hadn’t hosted joint practices since 2005 prior to last year, while quarterback Aaron Rodgers made it point of publicly stating he “wouldn’t mind if they didn’t do it for another 14 years.”
LaFleur isn’t the only one within the organization’s leadership who approves of the concept, though. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst also touched upon the joint sessions during Tuesday’s talk with reporters at the Combine, citing them as valuable evaluation periods for the team beyond what intrasquad practices can provide.
“Last year, we had some joint practices for the first time in a long time, and I think those were really helpful,” Gutekunst said Tuesday while discussing the possibility of subtracting one preseason game to compensate for a 17-game season, as proposed in recent CBA talks. “It was a way for our guys to get the reps that they needed against a quality opponent, taking some risk factors away.”
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Joint Practices Could Become Norm in NFL
If the regular season does expand to 17 games and the preseason shrinks to three exhibitions, don’t be surprised if the recent trend of joint practices spreads more throughout the NFL.
While the preseason can often be a bore for spectators, the opportunity for teams to test their system in live reps against an actual opponent can be seen as invaluable when it comes to making roster decisions for the regular season. Players on the fence of making the 53-man roster might be able to make a pivotal impression. Others could use the time for refinement of skills or rehab from injuries.
On a schematic level, LaFleur appreciates the opportunity of having an opponent to scheme against them before the stakes climb during the regular season.
“It’s good to change the scenery a little bit and go against a different scheme,” LaFleur said. “You try not to scheme up your own team on a daily basis. It’s more or less about you trying to build on your foundation and get good at core concepts that you’re going to run throughout the season, really at all three phases.”
Without a fourth preseason game, some teams would be inclined to give greater consideration to holding joint practices with another squad, but it depends more than anything on coaching philosophy. Some coaches — yes, Jon Gruden — haven’t been the biggest supporters of the preseason in the past, and it only intensifies when debacles like last year’s incident in Winnipeg take place. To refresh your memory, the Packers and Raiders competed on a shortened field after it was discovered there were issues with the playing field in the pregame.
Will the joint-practice trend take over? Better to postpone that conversation until after a new CBA is signed.