Why Jordan Love is ready

Nobody knows if Aaron Rodgers will be in Green Bay Day 1 of training camp. But, hey, maybe it does not matter. We talked to the man who knows Love best.

What a neat game Aaron Rodgers has created for himself.

Where he sees “wisdom” in silence, there’s also zero clarity for everyone else involved.

Either he’s dropping hints of a return by saying things like “we’ll see” and that he’ll “figure things out in a couple weeks.” Or that smirk means something else. Or this is nothing but a quarterback thoroughly enjoying the sight of everyone in Green Bay squirming and panicking and vacillating between hope and anger and hope again before — ultimately — sticking to his guns and refusing to play for the Packers when training camp begins in 12 days.

Twelve days.

The breaking point, for both sides, nears with this whole melodrama about to reach a new level of crazy.

The Packers are dealing with a personality unlike any other, one whose ability to dig in is rare and real and shouldn’t be taken lightly. You all know what we think ‘round here. Way back on May 3 and May 7, we wrote why the Packers need to trade Rodgers. Instead, Packers president Mark Murphy and GM Brian Gutekunst have opted to stare right through the MVP’s soul at the poker table. No doubt, their hope is that Rodgers’ love for his teammates supersedes his vitriol for them. Which isn’t a bad gamble, honestly. There’s a human element to consider here. Can this quarterback really look his teammates in the eyes and say he’s not returning because he has a beef with the front office? When these same teammates have families to feed and these are friends he allegedly cares so deeply about? It’s about the “people,” after all.

If Rodgers views this sport as a true brotherhood, he can’t leave them in the dust.

But he may. Sources have repeated, all summer, that his bitterness is real.

It’s all quiet on the Green Bay front right now. Players sincerely do not know what Rodgers will do. If he’s telling anyone, he’s keeping his inner-circle extremely small.

The good news is that Jordan Love keeps on tipping all leverage into Green Bay’s hands. The quarterback this team selected in the 2020 first round — the reason for this cold war — is more confident than ever after finally playing with the No. 1s through OTAs and minicamp. If needed, he can start Week 1. He can win, too. And he’s been the real “beautiful mystery” all along because if Love is good, if Love is ready, if Love is everything the Packers hope he’d grow into, well, the Packers really can do whatever the hell they want.

The growth of Jordan Love was the key to this standoff all along.

At this point, it’s clear that Green Bay will accept Rodgers back Day 1 of training camp if he has calmed down. How he’ll operate behind the scenes as a potential lame duck is a whole other story — Jerry Krause texts will only scratch the surface — but the Packers decided his talent was worth waiting for through April, May, June and July.

If the holdout continues into August, Love only gets more and more valuable reps.

And a front office can absolutely make franchise-altering decisions based off the first few weeks of a training camp, too. Nine years ago, the Seattle Seahawks realized they wanted to play 75th overall pick (Russell Wilson) over the vet they just rewarded a three-year, $26 million contract (Matt Flynn). His work ethic every day behind the scenes and his performance in the preseason game made it an easy call. If Love can string together strong practices and show promise under the lights, the Packers could at least feel better about trading the 37-year-old MVP.

About getting a king’s ransom for a player who wouldn’t want to be there.

The return on a trade could rise into mid-August, too. Let’s not forget the Minnesota Vikings freaking out when Teddy Bridgewater suffered his catastrophic leg injury. They unloaded a first- and fourth-rounder for Sam Bradford. When the pads come on, new variables will enter this equation.

Maybe a Super Bowl-contending team loses its starter to an ACL.

Maybe Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater look awful in Denver.

Maybe all the good things we heard about Tua Tagovailoa go up in smoke and the Dolphins decide to unload a bevy of prospects and picks to win now.

If (when?) Rodgers’ holdout enters the next phase, the Packers absolutely should get something for a player who doesn’t want to be there.  

Because, above all, this is a different Love.

This week, we caught up once more with the coach who has worked with him since ninth grade: Steve Calhoun. Nobody knows Love’s game better than the man who runs Armed & Dangerous Football. The two worked closely all offseason before OTAs and speak regularly. Calhoun says the Packers threw everything at Love this spring as if he were Rodgers, as if he were the No. 1. Both parties came out of it all beaming with optimism, too. He believes Green Bay was pleasantly surprised to see the reads and throws Love made.

It was all a gigantic step forward from his rookie season.

Next up, live fire in an NFL game. His chance to apply this all to the field.

“I know just talking to him,” Calhoun says, “he has a lot more confidence in the playbook, knowing that he can go execute it. That’s what people saw.”

A year ago, Love did not have this same confidence in the X’s and O’s the rare chance he got third-string reps with the Packers’ offense instead of running the scout team.

Now, everyone’s seeing that Matt LaFleur’s playbook suits his skillset.

“When you think about Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love, they have some similarities,” Calhoun says. “They’re athletic enough to be able to slide in the pocket and create enough space to make a throw or get outside the pocket and get you six or seven yards. They’re not going to get you 70. But they’ll keep the chains moving. So there are similarities to where you’re not like, ‘Oh man, I have a statue back here where I can’t really move the pocket. I have to call plays to protect him and keep the tight end in.’ So you can keep the playcalling similar as if Aaron was in there. Because Jordan is athletic enough and he can make some off-platform throws on the run.”

One player we spoke to who half-joked back in April that he was closer to playing QB for the Packers than Love. Now? After seeing the new Love up close, this offensive player fully believes Love can lead the team to wins. (“He’ll be just fine,” he said.)

This was Love’s goal, Calhoun says. Above all, he wanted to win over teammates. To say, in essence, “I’m not Aaron Rodgers. I’m not the MVP of the league. But if it comes down to it, we’ll be OK. We’re going to be OK.”

This is a perfect situation for a young QB to be in, too, thanks to the GM’s decisions.

A roster that was one play away from the Super Bowl last season is young and loaded.

The next breakthrough, for Love, is proving he belongs in a game when improvisation and creativity must take over. Those gifts are huge reasons why the Packers traded up to select him. His final year at Utah State — as noted by former NFL exec Marc Ross and former NFL QB Chris Simms — Love was surrounded by utter chaos. Graduation and injuries took a massive toll on the Aggies’ offense. Play to play, Love was forced to freelance and make strange throws from strange angles. All he’s been able to do in the NFL, to this point, is simulate this chaos. The last time Love even played one snap in a game was Dec. 20, 2019.

That’s why Calhoun stresses footwork above all else. He has Love ripping through a jump-rope routine all the time. Now when they connect, Love starts jump-roping approximately 2.4 seconds after saying “Hey Steve.”

“The thing about jumping rope is the ankle stability you create,” Calhoun says. “I equate boxers to quarterbacks. We’re bouncing. We’re in position. And in any given moment, we have to be able to set our feet, balance up and — whether you’re Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson — throwing the correct punch to knock somebody out. Or you’re a quarterback balancing up for a quick half-second to throw an accurate ball.”

The gold standard, of course, is Patrick Mahomes. All teams are chasing his ability to throw the ball from every conceivable angle. Thus, the logic in Green Bay choosing Love. The worst time to look for a quarterback is when you don’t have one so when someone who flashed glimpses of such athleticism, such arm strength fell into the 20s, Gutekunst was proactive.

Gutekunst knew the Packers would never get a shot at a top 10 talent and wanted to bridge the present with the future.

It was 100 percent the right call. Even if feelings were hurt.

Calhoun believes Love is “definitely prepared” for all chaos after that final season at Utah State.

Of course, Calhoun also believes Rodgers will return because he can’t see Rodgers turning on his teammates.

The Packers’ plan may have been for Love to sit one more season but if Rodgers does, in fact, speed that process up one year, if Rodgers misses any time for any reason, Calhoun is now sure that Love is ready.

“I think the team would know that if anything happened to Aaron, they’re in good hands,” Calhoun says. “He has given the team, the front office and the coaches that confidence that it’s not that big of a gap between Aaron Rodgers — and, ‘Oh my God, there’s a big drop!’ — and Jordan. It’s been good.”

Love probably cannot go through one day without someone asking him about Rodgers, the sort of stress that’d drive anyone else in his shoes mad. Yet no one should question Love’s mindset in a moment like this because no amount of chaos is going to faze him. He sees the big picture… to the tragic extreme.

Real stress is your father dying by suicide when you’re 14 years old.

Calhoun remembers entering Love’s life about nine months after. The head coach at Liberty High School in Bakersfield, Calif., Bryan Nixon, called him up to say he had another QB for him to train — Calhoun previously groomed Cody Kessler for him.

Since then, both Calhoun and Nixon have served as coaches and mentors and have witnessed Love’s steely wiring firsthand.

“All this stuff going on,” Calhoun says, “all of this Aaron Rodgers stuff going on, all of this, ‘Jordan, are you going to be QB1? Is Aaron coming back?’ — dude that’s nothing, that’s nothing compared to losing your father and having to become the man of the house and you’re just 14 years of age. I believe there’s nothing he could face in football that will rattle him to go, ‘Oh my God, there’s just way too much pressure.’ The media killing him. The fans killing him. That’s nothing compared to what we went through when he lost his father.

“I don’t worry about Jordan and the pressure he’d face if he doesn’t play well all the time. If he does end up playing, there’s going to be so much scrutiny on him. ‘Oh, he’s not Aaron Rodgers! I can’t believe the front office didn’t do everything it needed to do to keep Aaron Rodgers.’ I think Jordan can handle that like a grain of salt and be a great soldier because he’s been through so much more. He’s calloused. He’s calloused. He’s going to be fine.”

The clock is still ticking. Another deadline looms.

Soon, the Packers will learn if Aaron Rodgers would like to be their quarterback. A.J. Hawk remains optimistic, while the reporter who dropped the initial bomb (Adam Schefter) absolutely does not. The QB himself may take this past the buzzer, too. The state of Wisconsin can’t even get an NBA Finals visit out of Rodgers when Rodgers is a part owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, he has managed to maintain some plausible deniability. Rodgers could still return to the team at any point, criticize those who doubted him and throw touchdowns again at Lambeau Field like nothing happened. Yet if we know anything about Rodgers, it’s that he’s stubborn. It’s that he’s an all-time grudge-holder and this still feels like a career-defining grudge in his mind.

We will see, indeed.

The good news for the Packers is that it doesn’t really matter what Rodgers does.

The draft pick that set this craziness into motion will be just fine.

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Miss a previous post from “Packers Week” at Go Long? Here is our discussion on this topic, our profile of running back Patrick Taylor and a Q&A with the Most Interesting Man in Green Bay.