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Packers by position: Will he? Won’t he? Packers quarterback situation hinges on 3-time NFL MVP coming to camp
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PACKERS | TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW

Packers by position: Will he? Won’t he? Packers quarterback situation hinges on 3-time NFL MVP coming to camp

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rodgers photo 7-17

Packers' Aaron Rodgers will turn 38 on Dec. 2.

GREEN BAY — He is too competitive — did you see him in “The Match?”— to not report to training camp.

No, wait, he’s still angry, and he doesn’t want to be in Green Bay anymore — period.

No, wait, he’s 37 years old and there’s no way he’s going to sit out an NFL season in the twilight of his playing career — even if he plans on playing into his 40s.

No, wait, you know how he is once he digs his heels in, he’s not going to relent.

Yes, welcome to the Green Bay Packers’ 2021 quarterback situation, which hasn’t appreciably changed since Aaron Charles Rodgers — shortly after losing in the NFC Championship Game for the fourth time in his career as a starting quarterback and shortly before his coronation with his third NFL MVP award — sounded very much like a man bidding adieu in his Zoom call with reporters following the team’s season-ending 31-26 loss to the eventual Super Bowl LIV-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 24.

In just over a week, the full 90-man roster is slated to report to Green Bay, with the first practice of training camp set for July 28. And because Rodgers has said next to nothing publicly about his intentions, all anyone can do at this point is make educated guesses like the ones listed above.

Rodgers’ most recent from-the-quarterback’s-mouth “statement” came July 10 during one of his rounds at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, when he was asked what his plans were moving forward. His 25-word economical, smiling response? “I’m going to enjoy the hell out of this week. And then get back to working out, and figure things out in a couple weeks.”

Those couple weeks are approaching their end, and what will come next in the Rodgers saga is hard to predict. Team president/CEO Mark Murphy, speaking during a Zoom call with reporters late last week after sharing the team’s annual financial report, declined comment when asked if he anticipated Rodgers would report to camp, saying only, “I would just say there’s nothing new to update on the issue that you raised.”

Rodgers signed a four-year, $134 million extension in August 2018 when he had two years remaining on his existing deal, meaning his current deal runs through 2023. While he didn’t speak publicly very often during the offseason, he did mention twice his performance last season likely threw a “wrench” into the team’s planned succession timeline from him to 2020 first-round draft pick Jordan Love.

Rodgers won his third MVP award last year with one of the greatest statistical seasons in NFL history: He completed 372 of 526 passes (a career-best and franchise single-season record 70.7% completion rate) for 4,299 yards with 48 touchdowns and five interceptions for a 121.5 passer rating. His 48 TD passes were a career-high and team single-season record, and his 121.5 rating was the second-highest of his career and second-highest in NFL history, one point off of his NFL-record 122.5 rating in 2011.

2011.

“The wrench was just kind of thrown into it when I won MVP and played the way I played last year,” Rodgers told ESPN’s Kenny Mayne during Mayne’s final SportsCenter show on May 24. “This (situation) is just kind of, I think, a spill-out of all that.”

While Rodgers stayed away from the offseason program — including the mandatory minicamp — for the first time in his career, Love got virtually all the 11-on-11 work during organized team activity practices and the minicamp, and his performance fluctuated from poor (the first minicamp practice) to pedestrian (most of the open OTAs) to phenomenal (Day 2 of minicamp).

If Rodgers stays away again, Love will again get extended work — under more challenging circumstances than he faced during the offseason program.

“Anytime you’re in OTAs, I mean, it’s so different. It’s just not real football until you’re out there in the stadium,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said in June. “I think it’s just about being able to make the proper decisions and understand it’s timing and accuracy and all those things have definitely been better up to this point. And I think the more experience, the more reps he can get, it’s going to help him.”

Here’s a closer look at the quarterback position as the Packers prepare for training camp, which is scheduled to begin for rookies next Friday and for the full roster four days later.

Depth chart

12 Aaron Rodgers: 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, age 37, 17th year from California.

10 Jordan Love: 6-4, 219, 22, second year from Utah State.

9 Blake Bortles: 6-5, 236, 29, seventh year from Central Florida.

7 Kurt Benkert: 6-3, 218, 26, second year from Virginia.

18 Jake Dolegala: 6-7, 242, 24, first year from Central Connecticut.

Burning question

Will Love be up to the task if the Rodgers saga doesn’t get resolved?

For better or worse, fourth-year general manager Brian Gutekunst has staked his reputation — not to mention the organization’s ability to keep up its winning tradition — to Love being a top-flight quarterback. But it’s hard to imagine he ever intended for Love to take over already in 2021. And even if the Packers thought Love might be ready to ascend to the starting job in Year 2, surely that timeline changed when the COVID-19 pandemic moved last year’s offseason program online, shortened training camp and wiped out preseason play — stunting Love’s development as a rookie. He didn’t even put his No. 10 jersey on on a game day last year, inactive for all 18 games (including playoffs). Even Gutekunst himself acknowledged Love has “a long way to go” when he spoke during the draft in April.

Whether Love will be ready for the Sept. 12 opener at New Orleans if Rodgers doesn’t get what he wants is impossible to say. Before he gets there, he must show he can handle the work — and added scrutiny — he’ll endure during training camp.

“My mindset this whole offseason’s been to get myself ready, and that’s been my mindset since I got here,” Love said. “Whether Aaron was here or not here, that’s going to be my mindset regardless, because I have to get myself ready to play and be able to go out there and take charge of the team and be able to perform at a high level and do my best so everybody else can do their jobs as well. My goal is just to take day by day, get better, find areas I need to improve.”

On the rise

Benkert

After taking part in the post-draft rookie camp on a tryout basis, Benkert beat out the other tryout QB (Chad Kelly, the nephew of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly) and earned a contract. He then turned some heads during the OTAs and minicamp when getting rare 11-on-11 snaps, and one could have argued convincingly he looked better than Bortles, who has 73 games of starting experience in the league.

Benkert, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia in 2018, has spent the past three seasons on the Atlanta Falcons’ practice squad or injured reserve. He was called up to the 53-man roster for one game last season but did not play and reverted back to the practice squad thereafter.

“Kurt’s had a couple of years in the league now with Atlanta and he can really throw the football. But it’s going to come down again to being able to do that in the preseason games, to really show us what he can do and what he’s capable of,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said. “But, (I) love the guy. He’s just been a sponge in that room. Always asks great questions and, you know, I think he definitely has a chance to show what he can do this preseason.”

Player to watch

Bortles

For a guy who was a top-5 pick (No. 3 overall in 2014), took a team to a conference championship (the Jacksonville Jaguars, to the 2017 AFC title game) and has experience in a variation of LaFleur’s offense (while spending time on the Los Angeles Rams’ roster the past two years), Bortles was largely unimpressive during open-to-the-media practices during the offseason. In fact, multiple sideline observers saw what looked like a hitch in his delivery, which LaFleur admitted seeing, too.

All that said, Bortles’ experience could make him a viable starting alternative to throwing Love to the wolves if Rodgers doesn’t return. But he’ll have to show he still has what it takes to be an NFL starter — and would be a better option than a not-yet-ready-for-prime-time Love. Throw in having Hackett as his offensive coordinator and the success that duo had in Jacksonville together, and there’s a compelling storyline to follow in camp.

“Blake and I were together for a long time. It was an up-and-down experience, and that’s kind of how football is,” Hackett said. “We’ve been through a lot together. He’s such a good leader just around the team, just a really good dude. Having him there has really been great.”

Key competition

Rodgers vs. the organization

Over the past decade, the Packers have been to four NFC Championship Games (2014, 2016, 2019, 2020) with Rodgers at quarterback and have yet to make it back to the Super Bowl after Rodgers led the 2010 team to the title. But without him, they have next to no chance at reaching a third straight NFL title game, and might not even be a playoff team — despite a roster with ample talent beyond the quarterback position.

Although LaFleur abandoned his public pleading for Rodgers to return, make no mistake: The coaches know they need Rodgers to have a shot at winning it all. Until the situation is resolved, there’s plenty of reason to worry.

Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2020 through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

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