Packers rookies learn from Rodgers
GREEN BAY — Practice was nearly over. Even the regular fans were strolling out of the stands under the hazy summer sun, having seen enough of the same ball security drills every week since May 29. The players who have been sidelined with various injuries swayed side to side, kicking away boredom one blade of grass at a time.
Just two more days of this and then weeks of freedom until training camp starts. . . .
But on this Tuesday in June there was Aaron Rodgers, downfield from the cluster of most of the team, with one arm thrown around rookie wide receiver Davante Adams and another over assistant coach Edgar Bennett, going on and on about something.
In 10 years with the Green Bay Packers and their off-season work in organized team activities and June minicamps, Rodgers has been here for all of it except one forgettable OTA.
“It was excused,” the quarterback said Tuesday.
Is he joking?
By now, the 30-year-old leader of the Pack could go completely on autopilot for this stuff and hardly a soul would blame him. If seniors are sick of school after four or five years, he must be out of his mind with center-quarterback snap drills. There’s nothing here he doesn’t know. There’s nothing here he hasn’t seen.
The truth is, even though his coach had him make some adjustments this summer, Rodgers is largely here for two reasons besides staying sharp: a promise he made a long time ago, and an obligation to the youth on the team now.
Coach Mike McCarthy noted Tuesday that this is probably Rodgers’ best spring in the nine years he’s worked with him and that he’s in great shape. Still, McCarthy felt he had to make things easier for all the new players coming into the offense for the 2014 season.
“The biggest change was for Aaron,” McCarthy said, “but it was the best thing for the group. So he had a little more studying to do this year than in prior years.”
More studying? That probably went over well. McCarthy joked that NFL coaches are really just salesmen and that he had to sell Rodgers on the idea, but in reality, he needed Rodgers to be on board with the idea.
“No one knows our offense better than Aaron Rodgers,” McCarthy said. “He clearly understands why we make changes or adjustments because frankly, he’s driving this machine, and it’s not only better for the rest of our offense, it’s obviously better for him, too. He definitely welcomed all of the adjustments.”
But simple does not mean sloppy, not when you’re working with No. 12.
“He’s coaching me up every time I make just the slightest mistake,” Adams said. “He’s making sure I’m doing exactly what needs to be done. He has my best interests at heart — and obviously he knows what he is doing, so I’m going to listen to everything he says.”
Working with the rookies and second-year players has given Rodgers renewed focus in what otherwise could be a brainless weeks-long exercise for someone who memorized every blitz by the Chicago Bears in the last six years.
This also is crucial time with new centers J.C. Tretter and Corey Linsley, a rookie. If Rodgers weren’t here, or if he was on a limited snap count, they would miss out the most.
“Every quarterback thinks through things differently, does checks differently,” Tretter said. “What are you going to check to, what are you thinking? That’s the important part. You know beforehand, so it’s not a surprise.”
Quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said Rodgers is driven — even now. He still fires off questions, even though he often sounds and acts like one of the assistant coaches.
“He’s got a lot invested in this,” Van Pelt said. “For him not to be here would not only hurt his investment but the development of everyone else around him. This isn’t just to keep himself sharp, it’s for everyone else.
“He’s been as locked down as I’ve seen him in my three years here.”
Asked if Rodgers is more laid-back at this time now, or if he will chew anyone out even in these camps, Van Pelt started nodding yes.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “He’s a perfectionist. He wants things done the right way. Younger, older, it doesn’t matter.”
Even at Van Pelt? His position coach?
“I remember first getting ‘the look’ when I was the running backs coach — when the running back went the wrong way,” Van Pelt said. “We always talk about that, don’t get ‘the look.’ You get that and you’re in trouble.”
Offensive coordinator Tom Clements said there’s no worry that Rodgers would be fatigued mentally at this time in the off-season.
“He’s a competitor,” Clements said. “Once he gets out there, he starts competing against the defense.”
Not only is Rodgers a camp regular, he’s here for the voluntary workouts earlier in the year that are not open to the public or the media 90 percent of the time or more, he said.
And that’s where the promise comes in.
“It’s the opportunity to build team chemistry with the guys, it’s the challenge of beating up on Dom (Capers) and his defense,” Rodgers said. “It’s the competitive juices that get going from time to time in these OTAs and minicamps. And it’s proving yourself to young guys that haven’t seen you in action other than on TV over the years, as I’ve become one of the older guys in the locker room.
“But I have said that in the past; if I can’t be an almost-to-a-completely-full off-season participator, then I’m going to move on. I plan on being here for a long time.”