Jordan Love shows progress, David Bakhtiari comes off PUP list, and a Leap investigation
Jordan Love delivers his strongest performance in a Packers uniform to date while his teammate, All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, has officially come off the PUP list.
The Green Bay Packers beat the New Orleans Saints 20-10 in the second preseason game. Though, as we know, the final score represents the least important thing about these exhibitions. Instead, a former first-round quarterback provided a promising performance while other young players on both sides of the ball stood out with speed and play-making.
But perhaps the most important development to come out of the weekend had nothing to do with what happened on the field, as the Packers announced the long-awaited return of a star offensive lineman from the physically unable to perform list.
The Leap will dive into these topics and more -- including an investigation into the on-field wardrobe of a popular Packers receiver -- in today's newsletter.
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Based on how Jordan Love has performed during the first two preseason games, does he appear ready to start if called upon? If not, how much farther does he need to go?
Jason B. Hirschhorn: One would have to go back pretty far in NFL preseason annals to find a quarterback whose caliber of play and quality of stat line differ more greatly than Jordan Love's. The third-year pro has looked comfortable and decisive playing within the structure of the offense and creative and capable on the occasions when a play breaks down. While Love always had the physical tools to perform at this level, he hasn't demonstrated it during games prior to the past two weeks.
"I think he's light years ahead of where he was a year ago," Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said of Love following the game. "I think if you ask our guys in that locker room, every one of them would tell you they've got a lot of confidence in him, and I think we would all agree in that locker room that he's one of the most improved guys over the last year."
During his two extended opportunities last season, Love would glitch out during seemingly routine plays, short-circuiting the offense and negating any splash throws he delivered. Those moments haven't materialized so far this preseason, with Love showing better command of the pre-snap phase of the offense and executing most plays just as the coaches conceived. That improvement has allowed the offense to stay on the tracks, even when his receivers have literally and figuratively dropped the ball.
As for whether Love has shown enough for the Packers to feel confident starting him, the answer remains murky. He still misplaces a few too many throws, including a few on Friday. In particular, Love's touchdown to Romeo Doubs should have gone to the receiver's back shoulder, not high and inside where the defender could have conceivably made a play. That Doubs successfully adjusted to secure the catch doesn't undercut the mistake.
Can Love clean up those elements? Of course, and he has plenty of runway with which to do so. But in a non-exhibition game, opposing defenses will throw more complex looks at him and, crucially, feature their full arsenals rather than some young starters and backups. Love has the arm talent to elevate his game accordingly, and he would certainly benefit from working behind the Packers' full starting offensive line as well as having all the skill-position players at his disposal. But the margin for error will shrink considerably, and Love still has more to prove before the team can feel truly confident with him under center.
Peter Bukowski: Beyond the progress Love has made, and to me that progress has been evident, Matt LaFleur has more experience with Love under center. After the 2020 season, the Packers coach insisted the biggest reason for that Year 2 jump in offensive production from 2019 had nothing to do with some intrinsic part of the offense, but rather that he knew his players better.
LaFleur knows Love better now. Week 1 against the 49ers was a lot of shotgun dropback. It was the Aaron Rodgers 2019/2021 offense. Week 2 saw the offense shift to something far more akin to the Rodgers 2020 offense, a play-action-based scheme that specialized in shot plays.
That’s where Love can shine and we saw it. Two-receiver concepts tend to clean up the reads for the quarterback and play-action muddies the picture for the defense. Nice combo for a young signal-caller. Love can run the offense has currently constructed with an even better supporting cast.
LaFleur admitted after the Kansas City Chiefs game he didn’t put Love in a position to succeed and to be sure the Chiefs blitzed the daylights out of Love with few adjustments until the second half. Making matters worse, the offensive line was a complete mess. Friday’s performance offers a clue that not only has Love improved since then, but so has his coach in understanding how to use him.
With David Bakhtiari now off the PUP list, which individual player or players feel the pinch come final cuts on Aug. 30?
JBH: With David Bakhtiari off the physically unable to perform list, he must now occupy one of the spots on the initial 53-man roster. That holds true even if he cannot play in Week 1 tilt with the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers would still have to roster him through final cuts and either let him take up a spot until he returns to full action or place him on short-term injured reserve.
While Bakhtiari's return provides the Packers' hope for the full offensive line playing together for the first time since the 2020 season, it also will force some difficult and uncomfortable decisions when final cuts arrive. Any reasonable projection for the team's initial roster must now include him, the recently activated Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers, Royce Newman, Yosh Nijman, and Jon Runyan Jr., all of which either will start once fully cleared or have worked extensively with the starters throughout training camp. Add in mid-round rookies Zach Tom and Sean Rhyan, and Green Bay already has eight spots solidified for the O-line.
The list of retained offensive linemen probably looks longer come Aug. 30, however. Jake Hanson has competed for a starting job and still appears to have a shot at winning the job at right guard, so he probably takes a ninth O-line spot on the initial roster. Perhaps the Packers rethink that given Tom's versatility, but Hanson still seems more likely to make the team than receive his walking papers come cutdown day.
The math paints a pretty clear picture. The Packers, who have kept as few as seven offensive linemen on their initial 53-man rosters, seem unlikely to extend beyond nine given the needs at other positions. One way or another, the front office will have to waive at least one linemen that it previously hoped to retain through final cuts.
As for who might now fall on the wrong side of cuts with Bakhtiari's return, a few names stick out. Cole Van Lanen, who spent extended portions of the offseason program working with the starters and competing at both tackle spots, suddenly doesn't have a clear path to the 53. Additionally, seventh-round pick Rasheed Walker hasn't demonstrated much progress over the course of camp. He also hasn't played in either game which, given his place on the roster, doesn't bode positively.
Given the time invested in Van Lanen, the Packers would probably prioritize him for a spot on the practice squad should he clear waivers. Walker's potential and draft status suggest the same, though perhaps to a lesser degree.
PB: In my initial projections, I had Walker off the team and his inability to get out on the field to show something has stunted his chance to change that. I had eight offensive linemen on that first crack at the 53-man roster with Bakhtiari on the squad, but Jake Hanson’s unlikely ascent adds Van Lanen to the cut line list.
With Zach Tom showing the ability to play guard or tackle at a higher level than CVL, along with Yosh Nijman who looks like the go-to swing tackle, that leaves little room for the local boy. Given the injury risk of Elgton Jenkins and Bakhtiari, it’s within the realm of reasonable outcomes that Green Bay want to keep nine in the trenches, but Van Lanen’s spot on the roster was already somewhat tenuous.
Especially because Walker hasn’t been seen by other teams in exhibition games, the Packers can have some faith he’s a practice squad lock. Perhaps that allows the Pack to move on from CVL to keep an extra tight end or linebacker.
Who else stood out against the Saints on Friday?
JBH: With the Packers holding out their top three corners from preseason action again, the backups showed some friskiness in their stead. Second-year pro Shemar Jean-Charles served as one of the starters against the Saints and allowed zero catches on 52 snaps from scrimmage. Teammate Kiondre Thomas didn't start but ended up with the same stat line over 45 defensive plays. Though other corners had moments, these two probably had the most impressive showing among the fringe roster candidates at the position.
With the Packers keeping as few as five total corners and Keisean Nixon considered a favorite to make the roster due to his connection with special-teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, Jean-Charles and Thomas seem in competition for the same roster spot. While both hold roles on special teams, they provide different assets on defense. Jean-Charles plays primarily in the slot, where he lined up for 29 of his 52 defensive snaps on Friday, according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, the taller and lengthier Thomas played almost entirely on the boundary, seeing zero snaps as a slot corner.
The relative utility of Jean-Charles and Thomas could end up deciding which one the Packers decide to keep, assuming one survives final cuts. But at least for this week, the two young corners made that decision more difficult for the front office.
PB: Linebackers not named Quay Walker. Both Krys Barnes, who lost his job to Walker, and Isaiah McDuffie play with speed and force against the Saints. With a player who has played as many real NFL snaps as Barnes, a team has to hope he would show up in an impactful way against backups and Barnes flashed at times. He may well be the best base ‘backer to play next to De’Vondre Campbell for some of those teams who want to play heavy.
McDuffie entered 2022 poised to be a special-teams-only type of player and while that won’t change with a nice preseason, this is the first time he’s looked like a player with a chance to be a useful player if injuries force him to play meaningful defensive reps. His speed and instincts led him to six tackles and some impressive athletic plays covering ground.
Add in Ray Wilborn, who led the team in tackles, had a sack, and played special teams, and a position we thought was solidified with an All-Pro and first-round pick, may be much deeper than we originally thought.
JBH: This probably interests me and me alone, but Doubs might not have an apparel deal.
Most NFL players -- even the non-stars -- have contracts with one athletic apparel company or another. Those deals result in the individual sporting one company's cleats, gloves, and more at the expense of the others. Often, the player signs with his college's uniform provider, though not always.
As for Doubs, he has spent parts of training camp and the preseason wearing Adidas and Nike, the two biggest players in the field. During Family Night and his preseason debut, the rookie wideout wore Adidas receiving gloves as seen on the telecast and in the photos.
A closer look:
But this past week against the New Orleans Saints? Doubs sports Nike gloves and cleats.
In case you missed it:
While it doesn't actually matter what apparel provider Doubs uses, the fact he doesn't appear to be locked into one company or another fascinates me. His alma mater, Nevada, has a deal with Adidas, making Doubs an obvious choice for the company's roster. It doesn't hurt that the rookie's quarterback also has an endorsement deal with Adidas. But given how Doubs' star has risen over the past month, Nike too has plenty of reason to bring him on board.
Maybe Doubs has opted to slow-play the process and see if he can negotiate a better deal from one company or the other as he continues to perform? Perhaps he has a deal and simply hasn't abided by the restrictions? Regardless, among the inconsequential stories to come out of 1265 Lombardi Ave. this year, this one holds the most intrigue in my eyes.
PB: Micah Abernathy might be a player. It’s not just the interception, a leaping grab that had a little bit of luck involved as well. But the former Tennessee safety boasts outstanding athletic tools (a 6.69 3-cone for a safety is crazy) and even if he’s just a bigger body with speed who can play on every special teams group, that’s a valuable player.
So who gets the boot? Could it be Tyler Davis who has had a nightmare preseason? What about our pal Cole Van Lanen from above? Maybe they only keep four linebackers.
This is a loaded roster and even special teams spaces will be at a premium. If he has another stellar showing against the Chiefs, he could lock up a spot for Week 1 and beyond.