GREEN BAY—Aaron Rodgers believes there’s a clear method to the madness of all the penalty flags being thrown this preseason, and that the current trend is going to change next month.
The NFL has made downfield contact between receivers and defensive backs, as well as contact to the heads of offensive and defensive linemen points of emphasis this season, and the result has been preseason games turning into flag-fests that have slowed the pace of games and frustrated players who are doing what they’ve grown accustomed to.
The league office has said players will have to adjust. Rodgers suggested on Tuesday it might be the officials who will adjust some, too.
“This is my own opinion, but I believe there is a message being sent this preseason with the number of flags,” Rodgers said. “But I don’t see how you can continue to ref it the same way. As we’ve seen, there are so many calls that can be called on every single play, whether it’s offensive holding or illegal contact or what have you.”
Rodgers had a TD pass to receiver Jordy Nelson last Saturday in St. Louis called back due to an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on left tackle David Bakhtiari. Rodgers said that particular emphasis may require a different approach because linemen on both sides can duck their heads in trying to execute certain moves, and the hand-to-head contact becomes incidental.
“The intent is not to harm the player or (commit) a violation of the player safety stuff they want to cut back on,” Rodgers said. “They need to potentially take a look at it.”
Rodgers made it clear on Tuesday he doesn’t need to look at any more centers, proclaiming JC Tretter a trustworthy starter who “gives us absolutely zero cause for concern at the position.”
Tight end would still appear a bit up in the air, however, with Brandon Bostick’s lower leg injury creating an opportunity for second-year pro Jake Stoneburner to get some snaps with the first unit. Bostick, who is out for a couple of weeks, said his injury is to his right leg and is not related to the left foot that required surgery in the offseason.
Stoneburner made an immediate impression on Tuesday, catching a pass from Rodgers up the seam in one of the early periods.
“I think they want to see what everyone’s got,” Stoneburner said. “Definitely when you’re out there with the starters and with 12 behind the center, you can see what you really can do because he’ll get any type of throw out there.
“This is probably the biggest opportunity I’ll get.”
Tuesday’s full-pads workout was the longest of the week leading up to the preseason’s third game, Friday against the Oakland Raiders, who will bring two familiar faces back to Lambeau Field. Receiver James Jones and defensive back Charles Woodson each played seven seasons in Green Bay and were members of the Super Bowl XLV champions.
Jones departed as a free agent this past offseason, returning home to the Bay Area, while Woodson went back to the team with which he began his career following his release from the Packers after the 2012 season.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy called the decision to release Woodson, who won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, “one of the tougher ones” he and General Manager Ted Thompson have made.
Rodgers referred to Woodson as one of his favorite teammates, both as the scout team quarterback learning from him in practice and the starting quarterback sharing a top leadership role in the locker room.
“Probably the most talented guy, the most dominant player I’ve played with,” Rodgers said. “To become good friends with him was a blast. He was a guy who had my back through and through. I always appreciate that about him.
“He’s a future Hall of Famer, and I’m proud to be able to say I played with him, won a Super Bowl with him, he was a humongous part of that, and I definitely miss his presence around here.”
Friday’s game also represents the final contest before the first roster reduction, to 75 players. The Packers currently have 89 players on the roster, and while a couple of the subtractions could come via placing players with season-ending injuries – such as offensive lineman Don Barclay and receiver Jared Abbrederis – on injured reserve, that still leaves perhaps a dozen moves to make.
It’s a time that can put young players on edge, particularly when the first units might play the entire first half on Friday night, leaving fewer snaps for reserves to make a last impression in their fight to stick around.
McCarthy said over the years he has seen these tense times change players’ attitude and demeanor, and that doesn’t necessarily bode well.
“Haven’t seen it this week, but it’s something you look for,” McCarthy said. “You’re looking for consistency in their behavior, the proper behavior. When you get into these types of situations, the stress level goes even higher. It’s all part of the evaluation.”