A year ago at this time, Aaron Rodgers was a young, ascending quarterback looking for his first playoff win. This year, he’s the Super Bowl MVP of the reigning Super Bowl champions, which means his leadership role on the Packers has been heightened. Rodgers spoke of that leadership role on Sunday.
“I feel like one of the older guys and I’m only 27. I’m fortunate to be one of the leaders of this football team and one of the guys that’s looked at for direction and how I see things. It’s a greater opportunity to kind of put my stamp on this football team and on this locker room. It’s a fun opportunity when you’re relied on for more speaking opportunities and more input. I look forward to that. You also realize everybody is watching you and it’s important to conduct yourself in a way that reflects positively on what you’re trying to do. I relish the opportunity. I share that burden with a number of other leaders on this team. Charles (Woodson) and I really take that role as leaders on this team very seriously,” Rodgers told reporters on Sunday, which was to conclude with the Packers’ second practice of training camp.
“You learn from it. You have to realize the challenges that come with it,” Rodgers said of the Packers’ win in Super Bowl XLV. “As Mike (McCarthy) says, you have to manage success. We understand we have to do things better than we did last year.”
Rodgers, obviously, came to training camp prepared to manage his success of a year ago. McCarthy made a point in his post-practice press conference on Saturday of saying, “I thought Aaron threw the ball very well. I thought he was very sharp.”
Clearly, Rodgers’ was the dominant presence on the field on Saturday night. He was the player that got the loudest cheers from fans in attendance and, just as clearly, the Packers offense has been shaped for him.
“Leadership is a big part of your culture. He has more credibility because of the way he performed. I look for him to grow as a leader. I like the way he looks,” McCarthy said of his quarterback.
McCarthy also spoke on Sunday about the play of first-round draft choice Derek Sherrod, who was installed as the offense’s first-team left guard in what was Sherrod’s first-ever practice with the team.
“I thought he did OK. Being able to play at that speed is going to take some time, take some reps. This is great work for him. I like what I saw physically, but there’s definitely a learning curve,” McCarthy said of Sherrod.
McCarthy remains vigilant in delivering his message that last season’s success must be kept in the past, replaced by acceptance of a new season and new challenges.
“Last year is a great memory. I’m not getting into coachspeak. This is what I believe,” he said.
He would seem to have persuaded his players to embrace his message.
“A lot of people say there’s going to be a bullseye on our back, but I think we understand how good we felt last year. Everyone was gunning for us then and they’ll be gunning for us again,” linebacker Clay Matthews said.
“We need to improve in certain areas. We went over our stats yesterday. We need to better in the run game. We need to be overall a dominant defense.”
Matthews drew a laugh from reporters with his response when it was suggested that the Eagles had made some high-profile acquisitions.
“I know. They got Casey Matthews,” he said of his younger brother, who was drafted by the Eagles.
It’s the linebacker position opposite Matthews, however, that will be one of the most scrutinized positions in training camp. The job is up for grabs and second-year man Frank Zombo wants to wrap his hands around it.
“I had a taste of starting in the NFL and I want that now. I feel like I’ve grown a lot in the past year and I’m excited to see how I’ll play this year. I want that starting spot. I love playing,” Zombo said.
Day two of practices will again see tight end Jermichael Finley, safety Morgan Burnett and defensive lineman Mike Neal in limited participation, as they continue their rehabs. Rookie defensive lineman Eli Joseph (hamstring), tight end Andrew Quarless (hip flexor) and linebacker Diyral Briggs (hamstring) have yet to pass their physicals.