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Aaron Rodgers, Packers see improvement from young receivers after morning meeting

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers made it crystal clear on Tuesday that the Packers’ offense needs to be better, especially the young wide receivers. There have been too many physical and mental mistakes during training camp — dropped passes, wrong routes and pre-snap penalties — and they plagued the Packers’ offense again against the Saints’ defense during the first joint practice.

“Kind of been the theme of camp,” Rodgers said afterward. “Simple, simple plays we’re messing up.”

“We definitely took it to heart,” rookie receiver Samori Toure said of Rodgers’ critique. “As young receivers who are always looking for ways to get better, when the quarterback tells us to rise to the occasion, that’s what we gotta do.”

Wide receivers coach Jason Vrable wanted the receivers to meet with Rodgers, rookie wideout Romeo Doubs said, so that’s what they did early Wednesday morning. The meeting included all the receivers, all three quarterbacks and select offensive coaches. Rodgers took the lead after such a disappointing practice Tuesday. Veteran wideouts Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb spoke, too, because they’re the only two in the room with extensive experience playing with the back-to-back NFL MVP.

Rodgers spoke about Tuesday’s practice, the little things that need to improve and what he expects from his wide receivers, accompanied by a film session. It was the first such meeting of training camp, Toure said, but one that reiterated points coaches have been preaching to wide receivers all summer. Hearing them come from the quarterback, Toure added, “kind of put it all in perspective.”

“Basically, letting us know that the Green Bay receiving corps has always been held to a super-high standard,” Toure said. “It’s like one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, if not the greatest. Like I said, you gotta take it to heart. He’s a team leader. He’s definitely a voice that we listen to.”

Added Cobb: “It’s making sure they understand the opportunity that they have and not letting it squander away. Making sure that they’re focused on the little details in everything that we do and seeing the full picture. It’s not always about your route and what you have. It’s how you fit into the play concept and being in the right place at the right time.

“It’s a lot of the same things we’ve been saying in our meetings. When you hear it from the guy who’s throwing the ball, it comes out a little bit different. It was great to see them respond and make some plays today.”

I watched the Packers offense vs. the Saints defense on Wednesday. Here’s everything notable I saw, including a handful of encouraging responses from those same young wide receivers Rodgers may have been frustrated with.

Well, not quite yet. On the very first play of Wednesday’s team period, the Packers were flagged for a false start on the right side of the formation (it was unclear who exactly false-started, and the refs don’t announce it like they do in games).

Green Bay’s offense ran 16 plays during the first period, 12 runs and four passes. Rodgers took eight snaps and Jordan Love took eight. Rodgers went 0-for-3 passing with an interception that came when he heaved the ball deep down the middle for Doubs and was picked off by safety Marcus Maye. Love would’ve been sacked by defensive end Niko Lalos on his lone dropback if Lalos was allowed to hit the quarterback. Aside from three decent runs, two by AJ Dillon and one by Patrick Taylor, Green Bay couldn’t find much on the ground in 12 tries, either.

New Orleans’ defense was feeling itself so much, and rightfully so, that multiple players on the sideline started dancing to Fat Joe’s “Lean Back” blaring over the speakers.

It wasn’t until the next period, a red-zone session, that the Packers’ offense started to reverse its fortunes.

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On the first play, Rodgers hit receiver Sammy Watkins with a back-shoulder throw near the front right pylon for a touchdown. The throw looked to be a bit inside, but Watkins made a spectacular catch through the hands of cornerback Paulson Adebo. After a coverage sack and two incomplete passes by Rodgers, Love threw touchdowns on consecutive plays, one on a pretty lofted ball down the right side to wide receiver Juwann Winfree, who made another impressive catch, and one to Toure on a bullet low down the middle after stepping up in the pocket.

After three more incompletions, Rodgers ran a sprint-out and rifled one to Winfree, who again made a great catch in traffic. The final two plays of the period were taken by Love, who was again “sacked” by Lalos before finding a wide-open Doubs for a touchdown on a pass in the flat. Doubs has struggled with drops in training camp even while being the standout of the first several weeks, and he was asked if Rodgers calling out players for drops rattles him.

“Nah, it’s no big deal,” Doubs said. “I know I can catch the football. I know I’m confident enough with the hands that I have.”

Rodgers and company then ran eight plays in a move-the-ball period and got nowhere on seven of them. The outlier was a 32-yard completion over the middle to wide-open tight end Josiah Deguara. Otherwise, the Saints’ stacked starting defense continued flustering Rodgers and the first-teamers. The backups fared better, with receiver Amari Rodgers taking a jet sweep up the left sideline for a nice gain, Taylor earning the ensuing first down on third-and-1 with a run up the middle, running back Tyler Goodson earning 14 yards on the ground with a nifty cutback move in traffic and Love hitting tight end Alizé Mack for a first down near the left hashmarks.

Green Bay’s starting offense strung together its best sequence of the day on the first four plays of the two-minute drill when Rodgers seemed to throw a no-look pass over the middle to Doubs for 8 yards and then a dump-off to Dillon for the first down before hitting Doubs in the flat and finding Watkins over the middle in a tight window for a big gain and another first down. But those four plays were followed by Rodgers clocking the ball on first down, grounding it on second after the play broke down, throwing it behind Watkins on third (Adebo should’ve easily intercepted the pass) and getting “sacked” by defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon on fourth down.

Rodgers then went down the Saints’ sideline while the backups ran their two-minute drill and high-fived/smacked/commended their defensive starters — cornerback Marcus Lattimore, defensive end Cam Jordan, defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson and others. While Rodgers spent a good amount of time on the Saints’ sideline, Love continued his strong day in his portion of the two-minute drill.

After a big completion over the middle to Amari Rodgers, Love hit Toure for a 50-yard touchdown on a post route down the right side before finding Toure on a sprint-out for the two-point conversion to win the drill.

“The defense they ran, we were able to get Samori on a post behind them,” Love said. “He ran a good route and kind of just threw it to the right side of the field on the numbers and let him do the rest right there. He made a good finish.”

Added Toure on the two-point conversion: “I really just ran an out route. I think the dude kind of grabbed my hand and tipped the ball, but I ended up catching it off the tip. It’s really the game’s on the line, so you really don’t have a choice. You gotta make the play for your team.”

While Rodgers and company struggled again, Love might’ve had his best day of camp throwing the ball ahead of an important Friday night preseason game against the Saints at Lambeau Field. As crucial as exhibition No. 2 may be for Love after a rocky debut, it may be even more critical for the young receivers who need to either show Rodgers he can trust them in games that count or prove to management they deserve a spot on either the 53-man roster or practice squad in two weeks.

(Photo of Romeo Doubs: Samantha Madar / USA Today)

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