GREEN BAY — A brand new offense has put a serious crimp in Aaron Rodgers’ golf game. Not that the Green Bay Packers two-time NFL MVP quarterback is complaining.
After 13 years in former coach Mike McCarthy’s system — which some felt had grown stale and antiquated — Rodgers is excited about the new concepts and innovations that new head coach Matt LaFleur brings with his version of the Sean McVay/Kyle Shanahan scheme.
“It’s been a fun challenge to study more in the offseason. Most of the time, I’m checking the tee sheet to see what my tee time is in the afternoon,” Rodgers said with a chuckle following the first open organized team activity practice of the offseason earlier this week. “But now I’m spending time watching my iPad, studying my iPad at night, studying my notes and trying to come in here prepared every day.”
Rodgers acknowledged that he’s nowhere close to being as well-versed in the system as he wants or needs to be. At the same time, as the leader of the offensive pack, he knows he has to pick it up faster than the rest of his teammates on that side of the ball because his cohorts look to him and he directs what happens on the field.
“It’s important that I can lead from an aptitude standpoint with the offense — even if I still don’t understand the intricacies of certain reads or concepts,” Rodgers explained. “Being able to get guys lined up in the right spot is an important part of my job.
“I’d like to think I might be a half-step ahead of them with my ability to recall things and learn things quickly, but I can’t say I’m an expert of this offense at this point. It’s going to be a work in progress throughout the OTAs and minicamp.”
Rodgers said he thought it took him a solid three years to fully master the West Coast offense, which he spent one year in under Mike Sherman (2005) and two under McCarthy (2006 and 2007) before replacing Brett Favre as the starting quarterback in 2008.
But at age 35 and after back-to-back playoff-less seasons, Rodgers knows he doesn’t even have three months to get the offense down pat. He basically has 11 more practices — Thursday’s third OTA practice, seven more OTA practices over the next two weeks and three scheduled practices at the team’s mandatory minicamp June 11-13 — to get where he wants to go mentally in the scheme.
“I think it's probably a lot quicker learning curve having played 11 seasons as the starter,” Rodgers said. “But personally, I'd like to feel really good about it by the end of minicamp leaving here in June and feel good coming back in training camp and being able to spit plays out formationally with motions and concepts quickly and understand all the checks and intricacies of the offense. That's kind of the expectation."
As expected with a new offense, LaFleur said earlier this week that he will have all the longtime veterans at the mandatory minicamp, in a departure from McCarthy’s approach of giving Rodgers and other selected veterans the minicamp off the past three years. Rodgers also said he expects to play more snaps in preseason this summer after playing only seven snaps last year in preseason and a little more than 20 snaps in each of the previous preseasons.
“It's all from scratch; it's all fresh,” fourth-year wide receiver Geronimo Allison said. “Everything's new and we're attacking it with a fresh mindset. (Rodgers) has been open-minded — definitely been in communication with the coaches and the communication (that he has) passed down to the receivers has been great. It’s been great. He’s been all-in on it.”
Predictably, Rodgers and LaFleur were each asked how their relationship has developed so far, and for his part, LaFleur said it’s “going great” so far.
“He’s fun to be around. You can see how much fun he has out on that field, but we’ve had a lot of good conversations and I think we’re growing together,” said LaFleur, who spent a good part of practice working with the quarterbacks on Tuesday. “The more time that we can spend together, I think we’ll have a better feel for each other. Certainly, it’s been a lot of fun up to this point.
“It's fun to be over there and pick Aaron's brain a little bit and see what he likes. I think what's so cool is we are in alignment on everything we've talked about. It's cool to hear him coach up the younger guys, too. It's just kind of a back-and-forth dialogue. It's been a lot of fun.
“He's played a long time, so he's done a lot of different things. Certainly, there's some concepts and things of that nature that we're asking him to do that he hasn't done in his past. We're trying to challenge him on a daily basis.”
Rodgers, meanwhile, said he wasn’t worried about whether the scheme will be effective (“His system, it works”) or about building a rapport with LaFleur, although he joked that his new coach doesn’t play golf (“He said that head coaches shouldn’t be great golfers”) and said he hasn’t learned LaFleur’s favorite beverage yet (“I don’t know if he’s a scotch drinker, either, so we’ve got to get down to it”).
Instead, Rodgers just wants to make sure he’s where he needs to be with the playbook.
“The difference between understanding it on paper and actually getting reps in it — the minicamp, those two days, and then the two days (of OTAs) that we’ve had so far is not a great sample size to tell you everything about the offense,” Rodgers said “It’s going to be different. It’s going to look different formationally and with the motions and some of the things that we’re doing.
“But I think it’s an offense that I can infuse creativity and put my stamp on.”