GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers is trying to do what the new boss and the new offense require. That’s what he did throughout organized team activity practices as new coach Matt LaFleur installed his scheme, and that’s what Rodgers continued to do Tuesday during the first practice of the Green Bay Packers’ three-day mandatory minicamp.
When might the two-time NFL MVP revert to his old play-extending, improvising ways?
“Game 1, Play 1,” Rodgers said with a chuckle after practice.
While there might be some truth to Rodgers’ quip — neither LaFleur nor new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is looking to keep him from doing the things he does well, including making things happen after the initial play breaks down — Rodgers has gone out of his way during offseason practices to stay in the pocket and throw the ball within the rhythm and timing of the way the play is designed.
“I think it comes down to instincts. I think that’s the more important thing when you get out there and play,” Rodgers explained. “But I think you can retrain some of those instincts as well. And with a new offense, I’m really trying to trust the progressions and my eyes and learn timing on different things.
“In order to do that, you really have to give it a chance to develop. But, that being said, once you get into a live environment, I’m not just going to stand there in the face of a bearing-down defensive lineman and get rocked — especially in the preseason.
“I think the most important thing for me is to train my eyes so I know exactly where guys are going to be and when the progressions open up. And once I have that down — I feel like I’ve got it down pretty well — then I can just go out and play.”
Rodgers drew some criticism in the waning years of the Mike McCarthy era for eschewing the coach’s play-call, holding onto the football and extending plays in hopes of a big payoff down the field as receivers worked to get open. And, Rodgers acknowledged Tuesday, during these practices he used to intentionally extend plays during 11-on-11 periods to see how his less experienced pass-catchers would react and to teach them what he was looking for when he broke the pocket and bought time.
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But he’s consciously chosen not to do that this offseason because he believes getting his receivers — especially younger wideouts Jake Kumerow, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore, but also veterans such as top receivers Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison — have to get a feel for what the timing of LaFleur’s plays should look like.
“In order to do it, you have to exaggerate some of those things,” Rodgers said. “The same thing when I go through my drill work. In order for it to start to lock in, something I’ve maybe done for years and years and years, you have to over, over, over exaggerate things, and that’s some of the stuff I’ve been working on this offseason.”
Nevertheless, Rodgers still has the ability to do the things that makes him who he is. He did that during Tuesday’s practice a couple of times, which caught LaFleur’s attention.
“He’s played the game with a certain style for his whole career and he’s done it at a pretty high level,” LaFleur said. “I think just some of the things that he’s been able to really enhance within our offense has been a lot of fun to watch. … We never want to take that playmaker away from him.”
Added Hackett: “Aaron is Aaron. Aaron has done some pretty good things up to this point in his career. And I think we’re still trying to understand this whole offense as a group and where we can try to take him even farther. I think that’s what we’re always trying to find out, what we’re trying to accomplish. We just want to make it even easier for him. He’s already at a very high level and we’ve all seen that. We all know that. And I think that our job as coaches with this offense is to just try to fit it with him and give him more ammo.”
The University of California announced Rodgers made a “seven-figure gift” to the football program that will be used to renovate the locker room and endow a scholarship which will go to a junior-college transfer player. Rodgers came to Cal as a transfer from Butte Community College and played two seasons (2003, 2004) for the Bears. … LaFleur excused veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis from minicamp because Lewis is finishing up his coursework to earn his degree from UCLA. … The Packers added ex-Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Pharoah McKever on waivers. … Ex-Packers GM Ted Thompson was at practice. … LaFleur continues to coach from a golf cart as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Is he getting used to it? “I’ll never get used to that, just sitting there. You just feel a little bit like you’re not in the mix. You feel a little detached,” LaFleur replied. “But thankfully it’s only for a couple more days. I hope to be out of that cart come training camp.” … Rodgers was critical of Toronto Raptors fans that appeared to cheer when Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant suffered what appeared to be his own Achilles’ injury during Game 5 of the NBA Finals. “I’ve been in situations before and I’ve seen it in other stadiums. I do think that it is a little bit disgusting to cheer a player getting hurt and having to leave the field,” Rodgers said, referring to cheers that were audible when he broke his collarbone at Minnesota in 2017. “There’s no place for that in sports.”