GREEN BAY – Count Aaron Rodgers among those who believes the veteran additions brought in – during the offseason and in the past week – could make a big difference in the Packers’ fortunes in 2017.
“We also lost a lot of veterans, so it’s starting to even out a little bit,” Rodgers said prior to Wednesday’s practice, discussing the turnover in the locker room over the past six months.
The list of departures was the longest in a while for Green Bay – Julius Peppers, T.J. Lang, Micah Hyde, Jared Cook, JC Tretter, and Eddie Lacy, who will be on the opposing sideline in a Seattle uniform for Sunday’s season opener at Lambeau Field.
From an experience standpoint, there’s little to no collective drop-off with the replacements, a list that began in March with tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, guard Jahri Evans, cornerback Davon House and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois.
This past week, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks and defensive lineman Quinton Dial have been added to the mix as well.
While the X’s and O’s is never an easy part of the transition, filling the leadership voids might be the most difficult, Rodgers suggested. But he welcomes the new veterans who are willing to step into those roles when they feel ready to do so.
“It’s a matter of getting those guys comfortable in the locker room, in the system, in the playbook, and then allowing their personalities to come out and see how much leadership they’re willing to offer,” Rodgers said.
He added that he’s starting to see Bennett look for places to be a leader. Rodgers also mentioned having conversations with Evans and Jean Francois about the culture of the successful teams they came from, to see if there are any elements worth incorporating in Green Bay.
“You have to understand this is an insulated place,” Rodgers said. “When you’re here for such a long time, you have to fight against complacency of doing things the way you’ve been doing it every single year. You have to adjust and adapt and evolve.
“(You look for) things we can add to our program and our culture to make sure we’re keeping guys connected the right way and not being stagnant.”
On the field, Rodgers also appreciates having new discussions about the playbook with established veterans, conversations that are “different” from those he has with rookies and other young players through the offseason and training camp each year.
As challenging as it’s been to get Bennett, Kendricks and Evans on the same page with all the nuances of the offense and how Rodgers runs it, it sounds like he’s enjoyed the process, with more work to be done prior to Seattle’s visit on Sunday.
“That’s what this week has been all about,” Rodgers said, referring specifically to the change-ups with the snap count, cadences and checks at the line of scrimmage.
Openers don’t get much bigger than this one, featuring two teams that are on NFC postseason streaks. Seattle’s run is at five straight years, and six of the last seven. Green Bay’s is eight in a row, one short of the league record.
In the big picture, nothing can really be won or lost in Week 1, but with the NFC title game rematch in Atlanta looming in Week 2, the importance of a strong start for the Packers can’t be overstated.
Green Bay has overcome slow starts before, but Rodgers talked last January about getting games like the NFC Championship at home for a change. Given the schedule, that effort starts right away.
“We’re starting out of the gate with two teams that are in the Super Bowl conversation,” he said. “We need to raise our level of play from the start and take care of business.”