GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers didn’t need a couple of hearty scrambles in last week’s preseason opener to feel back to his old self, because he has felt 100 percent since the spring.
For those who weren’t quite sure about any lingering effects – physical or mental – from last season’s calf injury, seeing him flee the pocket on an early fourth-and-goal against the Patriots and make a tough throw on the run should have settled the matter.
“I’m back to playing the way I like to play, which is to extend plays when I can and get rid of it when I need to,” Rodgers said on Thursday. “If I have an opportunity to escape the pocket and create a different angle, I’m going to.”
That wasn’t the case late last season, when Rodgers became “a pocket quarterback,” something he’s never before called himself. In playing a game last week for the first time in seven months, Rodgers said he had “zero doubt” about his calf and has “zero inhibitions” with regard to his game.
“It’s nice. It’s nice to be back,” he said. “I trained hard this offseason to keep the speed and to get my body in shape where I can have the endurance to have multiple plays like that in a game, and it definitely adds a different element to our offense.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy described Rodgers as smooth during all his usual QB drills and in great shape physically.
He had the offense in high gear in New England, running 33 plays and racking up 161 yards in the first quarter alone. Coming away with only three points wasn’t very satisfying, but receiver Randall Cobb called it “a good sign” that it took no time at all for the no-huddle to be operating at breakneck speed.
“You want to play as fast as you can and get the ball to our offense for as many plays as possible,” McCarthy said earlier this week. “That’s definitely our formula.”
On Sunday in Pittsburgh, whether the No. 1 offense will play more than one quarter remains to be seen. Rodgers joked that 33 snaps is more than he had for the entirety of last year’s preseason, but he’s not particular about how much work he gets.
McCarthy suggested the third preseason game would remain the one in which the starters play the most. The Packers should have everyone on the No. 1 offense available in Pittsburgh except left tackle David Bakhtiari, who will be replaced by Don Barclay.
“It’s up to Mike,” Rodgers said regarding his playing time. “The goal for us is to stay healthy and find some sort of rhythm.”
On Thursday, the Packers had their last public practice prior to the Pittsburgh trip. Late in the two-hour-plus workout, a red-zone/goal-line period got rather spirited and entertaining, with the defensive players on the sideline hooting and hollering when the scout-team defense would stop Rodgers and Co. from finding the end zone.
Then, when Rodgers hit receiver Jordy Nelson down the sideline and tight end Richard Rodgers over the middle for scores, the QB hammed up the enthusiasm back at his mates. It was scout-team work, after all.
“We just wanted to bring some extra energy,” Rodgers said.
There were some noteworthy plays by the regulars on defense, too. Linebacker Sam Barrington and rookie cornerback Damarious Randall both intercepted passes in the end zone on consecutive plays, and Randall nearly had another pick near the sideline with a diving, one-handed effort.
Rookie tight end Kennard Backman also flashed as a member of the scout-team offense on two middle-seam throws, perhaps a sign the sixth-round draft pick is set to improve on the two receptions for 10 yards he had against the Patriots.
“I think ‘KB’ has made some good strides,” Rodgers said. “Physically he’s very gifted, as are the other guys he’s competing with. It’s just mentally, being able to lock in and play fast.”
Watch: Aaron Rodgers: "It's nice to be back
Photos: Studying for the Steelers