The summer of Jordan Love is about to truly begin.
On Tuesday, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur confirmed to reporters that, as expected, 2020 first-round quarterback Jordan Love will be their starting quarterback for Saturday night’s preseason opener against the Houston Texans. He added that Love “will play for the “majority of the game” with some reps left over toward the end for third-string quarterback Kurt Benkert.
Love’s first preseason start will serve as his first opportunity for live-game reps since his NFL career began about 15 1/2 months ago. He spent his entire rookie season inactive on game day as the Packers’ third-stringer on the depth chart behind an MVP-winning Aaron Rodgers and former backup Tim Boyle. The elimination of preseason games in 2020 also prevented the Packers from getting an in-game look at their prized first-rounder.
Now, after taking all the first-team reps during OTAs and minicamp, Love will finally get a chance to put it all together at Lambeau Field on Saturday; albeit, in an exhibition.
Meanwhile, LaFleur said Rodgers — who returned from an offseason holdout on the first day of training camp — would “most likely not” play at any point during the preseason. Rodgers has been notably against preseason action in past years and has not taken a preseason snap since playing the first series of the Packers’ second exhibition game in 2018.
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Preseason Reps Valuable to Love’s Development
The Packers have frequently lamented the loss of last year’s preseason games that prevented them from getting a genuine look at Love in live-game action. While they knew the pandemic would complicate things before they traded up to land Love in the 2020 NFL draft, it took going through summer workouts without the exhibition stage to realize how much they missed the evaluation opportunities.
“I think it’s like anything, you don’t really appreciate it until it’s gone,” LaFleur told reporters prior to Tuesday’s practice.
Things are much different, though, in the summer of 2021. Love has been getting a healthier mix of in-practice reps now that he has spent a year learning the playbook and refining some of his footwork and technique. He is also the primary backup for Rodgers heading into the season with Boyle gone, meaning the Packers will need him as attentive as ever in the event that something happens to Rodgers.
From Love’s perspective, the first step is simply getting back to playing real football again.
“The last time I played a game was the Senior Bowl coming out of college, so a little over a year and a half ago,” Love said Thursday. “But I’m super excited. This is the moment I have been preparing for, even since last year not having preseason. It’s almost like I’ve been training a year just for this first preseason game, so I’m super excited to get out there and play ball.”
Could Benkert Surprise in Limited Action?
The Packers went through some interesting quarterback motions during the offseason months while Rodgers was contemplating his future in Green Bay. They signed three new passers — veteran Blake Bortles, Benkert and Jake Dolegala — to give them practice arms behind Love and worked out a few others to stay well appraised of their options should they need to add another to the mix.
Within days of Rodgers’ return, however, Benkert became the only newly added quarterback left standing on the Packers’ roster. He had impressed the Packers’ coaching staff during his OTA and minicamp workouts and now, even if only for a limited number of series, will get a chance to earn a permanent place over the next three weeks of preseason action.
Make no mistake: The Packers are most interested in using the preseason to develop Love as much as possible given he could potentially become their starting quarterback in the next season or two, but Benkert getting tested will also have its value. While his 2021 role would likely not extend beyond emergency quarterback in the event of injury or COVID outbreak, the long-term picture could see Benkert develop into a primary backup by the 2022 season — either behind Love or Rodgers depending on how the Packers handle that situation over the next year.
To set himself up for that, though, Benkert will need better preseason performances than he gave the Falcons over his three years in Atlanta. In five exhibition games, Benkert completed 47 of 95 passes (49.4%) for 532 total yards, one touchdown and four interceptions; though all four interceptions came during his 2018 rookie preseason.