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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group

Emphasis on footwork laid foundation for Jordan Love’s Year 3 progression

The last few offseasons have brought uncertainty around Aaron Rodgers’ future with the team, but there was one stark difference this year compared to the others. This time, the Green Bay Packers were more than willing to move on.

This wasn’t the case in 2020, 2021, or 2022. Right away in each of those offseasons, Brian Gutekunst made it clear that Rodgers was their quarterback and that the Packers wanted him back–but not so much in 2023. While there are a number of factors that led to Rodgers being traded to the New York Jets, the biggest may have been the increased confidence that the team had in Jordan Love and the huge developmental leap he took last season, all of which started with a simple concept–improved footwork.

“I just did the things that I’ve done throughout my coaching career,” said quarterbacks coach Tom Clements, “as far as working on the fundamentals of the game, working on the footwork, that’s really the big aspect to playing quarterback. Try to watch a quarterback’s feet and not watch anything else and you have a good idea if it’s going to be a good throw. If you have your feet in position to throw, assuming anyone in the NFL has a certain degree of talent, you’re going to have a chance to have a successful play.

“So just working on the footwork, drops under center, in the gun. In today’s NFL, you have to move around, you have to scramble, be able to throw on the run, throw on the move, side step in the pocket; we’ve worked a lot of drills doing that. He just bought into it. He saw the drills we did with Aaron (Rodgers). He saw the success Aaron had. He works hard at it and had some improvement.”

Right upon Clements’ arrival to Green Bay last summer, footwork and going back to the fundamentals became a point of emphasis for Love. In the fourth quarter of the Philadelphia game, from the outside, we caught a glimpse of the strides that Love had made. He finished that game completing six of nine passes for 113 yards with a touchdown. In that showing, we saw a more confident version of Love, but also someone who was decisive, accurate, throwing the ball in rhythm and going through his progressions.

His improved footwork was the foundation for that success. On the flip side, if a quarterback gets out of rhythm, or their feet don’t follow their eyes, or they aren’t balanced, there is a negative trickle-down effect, like a snowball rolling down a mountain, that then impacts the rest of their mechanics, leading to inaccurate passes or poor timing.

Along with the focus on footwork, utilizing many of the same drills with Love that Rodgers experienced early on his career, Clements also emphasized movement and progression drills. In today’s NFL, being able to make accurate throws on the run has become a must. And while footwork is the foundation for successful mechanics, if a quarterback is making the wrong decision, not much else matters, and he’s going to get into trouble.

“It’s more of the movement drills,” said Clements. “Whether we take a drop, run over bags, and throw to receivers down the field or throw into a net, it’s dropping in the pocket, having to move one way or another based on where a rusher is. The key plays are faking a run and rolling out, throwing on the run. The more you can throw on the run it’s going to benefit you. And then we also just do, what we’ve done a lot over the years, and Aaron always enjoyed it, a progression drill where you have stationary receivers and you call whatever the play might be, and there’s a progress, one, two, three. I stand behind the quarterback, and I’ll just point to a guy just to go through a drop, and his footwork changes depending on which receiver he has to throw to. So moving around, throwing on the run, knowing your progressions, getting your footwork right, and getting it out to the right guy.”

Love’s performance against Philadelphia may have carried the most weight in Green Bay’s evaluation of him since it was a live game, but that wasn’t, by any means, the first time that the Packers coaching staff saw his improved play and performance in the key aspects of the quarterback position just described. That had been on display in the months prior, during practices, and in the preseason. If anything, his play against the Eagles only further confirmed what Matt LaFleur and Co. had already thought.

“I think it showed up in preseason last year,” said Clements last week. “It showed up when he was running the scout team against our defense because things break down pretty quickly when on the scout team, and you have to be able to think quickly and adjust. A lot of the plays that you’re running are similar to our plays, so you can practice are plays while giving the defense the looks they need to see. The more you can see things, at least the approach, game speed, and make the right decisions that’ll be helpful.

“Usually, as a young QB, in the first year, second year, you see guys running around like they don’t know what’s happening, but as you get more experience, it’s true, you’ve heard the saying, ‘the game slows down,’ for a guy. At a certain point, guys are moving fast, but you’re seeing it in slower motion. So that’s your processing, seeing it, and making the right decision.”

Love always knew the weekly game plan “in and out” and “digested it very well,” said Clements. That level of preparation, coupled with improved fundamentals, specifically footwork, culminated with a Year 3 leap, something that the Packers, to a degree, didn’t know was going to happen after they signed Rodgers to a massive extension last offseason. It’s also not a coincidence that this took place on Clements’ watch, either. As we all know, he played a key role in Rodgers’ development as well.

The components of a successful quarterback are there, but as Gutekunst has often said, Love needs more in-game reps at this time for his development to potentially really take off. Regardless of how well he prepares or how sound his footwork is, this is his first season as a starting quarterback, and there will be ups and downs. Along with trusting what he and Clements have worked on and doing so when the pressure is on, it’s vital that Love learns from those mistakes right away and that he has a short memory.

“As a quarterback, you have to learn from your mistakes,” said Clements, “try not to repeat those, and I say you have to play the game without a conscience. You got to forget about it. If you make a mistake, learn from it, but try not to repeat it. What also impacts that are your teammates. As a quarterback, if things go good, you get more credit than you deserve, and if things go bad, you get more blame. There’s 11 guys on offense, and everyone has to do what they’re supposed to do to be successful.”

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