The Green Bay Packers are going to play things cautiously with backup quarterback Jordan Love’s new shoulder injury, so cautiously that a fourth quarterback could be joining their roster in the coming days.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur told reporters on Monday that Love would not be participating in the week’s first practice after the 2020 first-round pick “dinged” his shoulder on a strip-sack during the Packers’ 26-7 preseason loss to the Houston Texans over the weekend. He also said the team plans to work out additional quarterbacks on Tuesday in case another camp arm is needed while Love recovers.
LaFleur, however, was not willing to rule out Love from his next preseason opportunity and said he could “potentially” be cleared to go in time for Saturday’s preseason game against the New York Jets at Lambeau Field.
“He is feeling a lot better, but we’re going to be smart about it, too,” LaFleur said Monday. “We’ll just see how the week goes and how he recovers. But he is feeling significantly better than he did on game day.”
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Love had an MRI on his throwing shoulder on Sunday that came back clean, but the Packers are showing an abundance of caution with a player who could become a major piece in their franchise over the next few seasons. While the preseason playing reps are valuable for Love — who played for the first time in 19 months over the weekend — it would seem counterproductive to rush him back into a game that doesn’t actually count for more than evaluation.
The Packers also have third-string quarterback Kurt Benkert available to take the reins in the event Love is not cleared to play against the Jets. He played the entire second half for the Packers against the Texans, going 8-of-12 passing for 88 yards with an interception, but it is doubtful they would trot him out for a start against the Jets without some form of backup plan in place.
LaFleur already said Rodgers would “most likely not” take any snaps during the preseason games, which means the Packers could have both of their first-round quarterbacks riding the bench on game day if Love is unable to go.
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If Love Sits, Benkert Becomes Focus
Benkert didn’t exactly wow during his first preseason game for the Packers. The 26-year-old quarterback was slinging the ball with speed and confidence when he initially came into the game in the third quarter against the Texans, but Benkert struggled to put together a complete drive over a full half of play and made a handful of mental mistakes along the way.
Fortunately, a better opportunity is knocking in Week 2 of the preseason, even if it only materializes on the practice fields. The advantage for Benkert with Love missing time is the additional reps that now come his way as the temporary No. 2 quarterback behind Rodgers. The reigning NFL MVP will presumably still take the majority of the reps with the starters, but everything else falls to Benkert until Love returns or a new arm is signed.
“It’s extremely valuable (for him),” LaFleur said Monday. “He hasn’t gotten the reps I know he would like, but it’s hard to rep more than two guys many times. It’s a great opportunity for him.”
Could Dolegala or Bortles Return?
As the Packers consider their options for workout quarterbacks, they might be tempted to give a call to either Blake Bortles or Jake Dolegala. Both quarterbacks spent time on the Packers’ offseason roster earlier this year and participated in OTAs and mandatory minicamp with the team, giving them a familiarity with the system that wouldn’t need to be taught from scratch over a couple of days. They are also both still free agents.
The Packers signed both Bortles and Dolegala in May along with Benkert while they were sorting through their issues with Rodgers and his playing future. Once Rodgers’ return became official and he reported for training camp on July 27, the team sent Bortles and Dolegala packing, content to give the majority of their preseason reps to Love and Benkert. Dolegala did get another opportunity when his former team, New England Patriots, claimed him off the waivers, but they waived him again after less than two weeks with Cam Newton and rookie Mac Jones both healthy and competing.
Given the situation, Dolegala seems the more likely of the two choices. While the Packers could opt for Bortles’ experienced arm if they want to test other aspects of their offense, Dolegala would offer them another young quarterback to consider for an in-season role with the team, likely on the practice squad. Benkert held an edge over him during spring workouts and earned the right to stay, but a preseason showdown could revisit their competition and ensure the best man gets the job.