Packers’ Jordan Love showing growth as Aaron Rodgers’ backup, but when will he play?

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Most NFL players don’t like playing the “what if” game. For Jordan Love, that’s the only game he can play right now.

In his third year as quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ backup with the Green Bay Packers, Love believes he’s different.

A different player than when he came here as a first-round pick in 2020 and didn’t get a full rookie preseason because of the pandemic.

Different than when he struggled in his first and only NFL start last season at Kansas City.

And different even since the end of the summer, when he began to show signs of his potential.

Yet, here is the 24-year-old spinning in a vortex of unknowns that even he admits he thinks about from time to time.

What if Rodgers decides to play another year?

“Who knows?” Love said recently.

Another two years?

“We’ll see,” he said.

Either scenario could mean Love never becomes the Packers’ next quarterback and ends up playing somewhere else.

“It’s a possibility,” he said.

To date, Love has played the backup role much the same way Rodgers did in 2005, 2006 and 2007 behind Brett Favre. Rodgers never had to say what he would do if Favre returned to the Packers in 2008 because Favre was traded to the New York Jets. Perhaps he would have asked for a trade.

Love wasn’t ready to say whether he would, but he left open the possibility.

“We’ll see,” he said again. “I would obviously be in the fourth year of my contract, and it would be the team’s possibility of picking up my fifth year. It’s really on them to see what kind of moves they want to make, what they want to do with the future.”

If the Packers are of the belief they need to see more of Love in regular-season game action, then Sunday’s 31-28 overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys delayed any chance of that, as it buoyed their playoff hopes. At 4-6 heading into Thursday night’s game against the Tennessee Titans (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video), their five-game losing streak is over and there’s a sense of rejuvenation.

The Packers remain all-in, but if at some point they’re eliminated from playoff contention before the final week of the season, a case can be made to start Love — especially if they’re not sure whether to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract for the 2024 season. They must make that decision by the first week of May 2023.

“I think we see it every day, so we’ve got a pretty good indication,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said recently when asked what he thinks they have in Love. “There’s nothing like getting in the game and getting those live reps, but he continues to show improvement on a daily basis.”

Love has taken more practice snaps of late than most backups because Rodgers has spent several Wednesdays on the sideline to rest and treat his injured right thumb. Rodgers often stands behind the huddle and, in order to stay sharp on the game plan, radios the plays in to Love, who returns to scout-team duties the rest of the week when Rodgers practices.

“I’ll still call plays in the huddle,” Love said. “I’m still running the show when I’m in there.”

When Love ran the show last season in his two extended appearances — the Chiefs game that Rodgers missed because of COVID-19 and the second half of the meaningless regular-season finale against the Lions — it wasn’t pretty.

He completed 29 of 51 passes for 324 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in two losses, all while struggling against blitzes and pressure. He showed some improvement in training camp and the preseason this past summer.

Handling blitzes and pressure is where Love believes he has improved the most.

“I think I’d be better,” he said. “Protections are coming a little bit easier — being able to make those changes, being able to see it quicker and just get us in the right protection.

“That’s coming quicker, and pre-snap recognition, I think it’s just coming easier, recognizing defenses, recognizing coverages and just kind of the feel of what might be open pre-snap, better than what I was doing before.”

Some, like one of his former college teammates, even think Love is ready to start right now — maybe not for the Packers, but somewhere.

“It’s hard when you’ve got the greatest of all time right next to you,” said safety/special teams ace Dallin Leavitt, who played two years at Utah State with Love. “But I definitely think he’s a starter in the NFL.”

During his senior season at Utah State in 2017, Leavitt thought Love was ready to be the starter right at the beginning of the season, but he started out as the backup to Kent Myers.

“I’m just going to be honest, I didn’t really like our quarterback, and I’m like, we’ve got to play the young guy,” Leavitt said this week. “Get something fresh, get somebody out there who will go out there and sling it. I think it was his first full start against UNLV, Jordan put 50 on them. I was hyped.”

Before he signed with the Packers in July, Leavitt had not seen Love up close since that 2017 season, which was Love’s redshirt freshman season.

“Young Jordan was obviously really impressive. The ball came out nice, always been a natural thrower, always been a good athlete,” Leavitt said. “Now being in [the NFL] for a little bit and seeing a lot of really good quarterbacks, I’m really impressed with him. It’s different when you’re playing in games and there’s game plans and decision-making, but his ability to feel routes and feel openings within the holes of the defense, it’s been really impressive.”

Said Love: “It’s an awesome thing for him to say. It just shows that he respects me and the way I work, but I believe it.”

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