GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers was back in the building on Tuesday as the Packers began preparations for next Monday’s game against the Detroit Lions.
While the two-time MVP quarterback remains out indefinitely after breaking his collarbone two weeks ago in Minnesota, Rodgers’ presence brought an immediate lift to the locker room as players returned from their bye week.
“It’s always good to have him here,” defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “He’s the leader of this team, so being able to see Aaron here and around us is always good.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday morning Rodgers split his day between rehabbing his surgically repaired right collarbone and attending meetings with new starter Brett Hundley, his understudy for the past three seasons.
Rodgers expressed optimism about his prognosis to McCarthy and several teammates, but McCarthy reiterated no timeline has been established other than simply trying to get Rodgers healthy.
Rodgers was off to yet another strong season prior to the injury, completing 128 of 193 passes (66.3 percent) for 1,385 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. His 103.2 passer rating remains the fourth-highest in the league among quarterbacks with at least 175 pass attempts.
After Rodgers broke his collarbone on a hit form Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr, the Packers placed the keys to the offense in the hands of Hundley, who made his first NFL start at quarterback against New Orleans more than a week ago.
Undoubtedly, there is a tangible benefit for Hundley and backup quarterback Joe Callahan to have Rodgers around the building, but the knowledge bank Rodgers has established during his 12 NFL seasons transcends his position.
“Even myself, I go and ask him a lot of times ‘What you think about this quarterback? What you think about that quarterback?’” said defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois. “I ask so many different things, so just having him in this building is going to help us. He is one of our best players on the team, but it’s a team effort when you want to put up a W.”
As Rodgers heals, the Packers have to turn their attention to staying in the heat of the NFC North race, with the Vikings taking a 6-2 record into their Week 9 bye following a 33-16 win over the winless Cleveland Browns in London.
The Packers received a bit of good news when all 25 offensive players on the active roster practiced Tuesday, including starting left guard Lane Taylor (ankle).
A healthy offensive line and emerging run game behind Aaron Jones would provide a significant boost for Hundley, who completed 12 of 25 passes for 87 yards with a rushing touchdown and interception against the Saints.
Defensively, hybrid safety and key communicator Morgan Burnett practiced for the first time since tweaking his hamstring last month in Dallas.
While Rodgers unquestionably is the biggest piece to the Packers’ championship puzzle, the importance of the other players inside the locker room can’t be dismissed.
“We have a lot of good players on the team,” Jean Francois said. “I understand to you guys that everybody feels like No. 12 is the best player on our team, but it’s a team-thing, not a one-man thing. Last time I checked, Michael Jordan won six rings but he didn’t do it by himself. Tom Brady got five of them, but he didn’t do it by himself. It takes a team effort.”
Entering an important stretch of the season, the Packers will look for improvement in all three phases. However, all the team’s energy is pointed toward beating the Lions and staying within one game of Minnesota for the NFC North lead.
If Green Bay can put together some wins over the next nine weeks, the rest will take care of itself.
“It’s tough not having Aaron, but we’re all football players,” linebacker Blake Martinez said. “We all have the capability of winning football games. I think stepping out here and getting that first win coming out of this bye week is going to be huge for us. Every win is huge, so as long as we can keep doing that and have that momentum shift moving forward in a positive direction, we’ll be good.”