GREEN BAY, Wis. — If it seems the Green Bay Packers have gone unnoticed of late — at least since the hubbub over their decision to draft their possible quarterback of the future in the first round died down — then that’s just fine with their quarterback of the present.
Aaron Rodgers sounded as though he’s enjoying the fact that despite coming one win short of his second Super Bowl appearance, there’s so much focus around the NFL on the likes of Tom Brady in his new home in Tampa Bay and other storylines, including one involving his former coach Mike McCarthy in Dallas.
“You know what, I don’t know about our squad,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “I think the beauty is there’s a lot of conversation about other teams, whether it’s Tom and Tampa, or the teams that were really solid last year, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Dallas with Mike and what they’ve done to their roster. I like where we’re at as far as kind of flying under the radar even though we went 13-3 last year. We’ve got a chance to prove what kind of team we are to start the season out on Sunday, and I look forward to the opportunity.”
The Packers didn’t give Rodgers any receiver help in the NFL draft and instead traded up to take Jordan Love at No. 26. Love will open the season as the No. 3 quarterback behind Rodgers and Tim Boyle. The Packers are also largely fielding the same starting defense as the one that got run over in the NFC title game by the 49ers, who totaled 285 yards rushing. The only major change was at inside linebacker, where they signed former Browns starter Christian Kirksey and let longtime starter Blake Martinez leave for the Giants in the free agency.
Still, Rodgers, 36, looked especially sharp as practices progressed throughout the shortened training camp. The Packers shifted into a regular-season practice mode last week, but Wednesday was the first actual regular-season practice.
“It hasn’t felt like a normal anything really with no preseason games and the schedule being different, and obviously the COVID testing every morning,” Rodgers said ahead of Sunday’s opener at the Minnesota Vikings. “That has all felt very different. Today felt like the first day of a game week. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I know I felt like I was in a rhythm from the moment I stepped on the field and I wanted to lead with some energy today to kind of set the tone that game weeks are different than training camp.
“Everything is amped up a little bit, to even, like I told the guys before practice, it’s easy to get amped up, obviously more on game day and with each progressing week, the urgency and the importance obviously picks up and so today I felt was a good day for us energetically. And it was definitely the first time I think, for me, that the realness of this kind of set in and the understanding that now it does matter. Hopefully, the rest of the guys don’t take until Sunday to have the same feeling because I know it’s been strange for all of us.”
Rodgers is in his second year under coach Matt LaFleur, and while Green Bay’s offense was inconsistent last season and Rodgers’ numbers were down — he posted his lowest Total QBR as a starter — the Packers still made it all the way to the NFC title game. Despite having no in-person offseason work, Rodgers took an active role in helping LaFleur revise and tweak the offense in Year 2 with an eye on playing faster.
One thing that won’t change is the playcalling wristband cheat sheet that Rodgers debuted last season. That’s here to stay.
“I don’t believe it’s possible with the length of many of these calls in our offense to not wear a wristband moving forward, so I expect to probably have that on because the density of some of these plays lends to really needing to wear that to streamline the head coach-to-quarterback playcall and then myself to the offense and the huddle,” Rodgers said. “We’re really trying to get in and out of the huddle a little bit better. We took a look at some of our delays last year and some of our up-against-the-clock snaps, and we’d like to get some better tempo coming in and out of the huddle. I think the way to do that is to use the wristband.”
The biggest lingering question about the Packers heading into the opener is who will protect Rodgers on the right side. They lost longtime right tackle Bryan Bulaga to the Chargers in free agency and they haven’t settled on a starter yet. Their hopeful starter, Billy Turner, didn’t practice Wednesday because of a knee injury, but at least the Packers won’t have to face Vikings pass-rusher Danielle Hunter, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday.
“I think that’s kind of a work in progress right now,” LaFleur said of the right tackle spot. “We’ll see where we’re at healthwise at the end of the week and then make a decision that we feel is going to give us the best chance to win.”