GREEN BAY – Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wants to play for a long time still, and not for any other team.
Rodgers has made those desires known before, but he explained his motivation behind them a little more on Thursday, fellow QB star Tom Brady’s 40th birthday.
Like Brady, who won his fifth Super Bowl last season at age 39, Rodgers believes he can play into his 40s and will be striving to do so.
“I do think it’s realistic. I hope it’s in this locker room, though,” Rodgers said. “That would mean it’s been at a high level.”
The natural assumption is that Rodgers’ hopes are rooted in what he witnessed first-hand, and was right in the middle of, with former teammate Brett Favre.
But there’s more to it.
“I don’t just think it’s 2008,” he said. “It’s being a sports fan and watching some of my favorite all-time players either not finish in the place they started – or the place you fell in love watching them play – or they did. And seeing how different the memory is of those players as a fan.”
On the one side, he mentioned icons like the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, and the Spurs’ Tim Duncan, who all won multiple championships for their franchises and retired with them. On the other, he brought up childhood heroes Joe Montana and Michael Jordan, who finished up somewhat unceremoniously playing for teams other than those with whom they won titles.
He even mentioned former teammate Charles Woodson, who has strong legacies in both Oakland and Green Bay. But it’s still legacies in two places.
“Doing it their entire career at one place, I just think it’s pretty special,” Rodgers said. “Again, I’m a realist as well. I have to play well, the team has to want to bring me back. But obviously I’d like to finish things here where we started.”
Rodgers, who turns 34 in December, is a week into his 13th NFL training camp, his 10th as a starting QB. He said recently he feels like he’s just starting the “back nine” of his career, and he’s certainly not feeling any lack of energy or enthusiasm for the coming season.
He feels energized by the “real football” conversations he has with the coaching staff, which are different now than a decade ago when he was just starting to take the reins.
Getting in sync with the new faces on offense – tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, plus all the rookie running backs – is keeping things fresh, too.
He noted Bennett’s and Kendricks’ experience and study habits have allowed them to step seamlessly into the offense, and with fourth-year pro Richard Rodgers rounding out the trio, the quarterback has seen a collective approach that gives him no doubts his tight ends will be highly involved this season.
“They really want to know what it looks like from the quarterbacks’ eyes, so they can be as efficient as possible with their routes and their stems, because ultimately it’s about getting the football,” Rodgers said. “I’m always telling them, if you want to get the football, communicate with me about what you’re seeing out there.”
As for the rookie running backs, he likes what he’s seen so far, but he’s going to “reserve judgment” until they fully absorb the playbook and all their responsibilities, including the “tough job” of pass blocking. He added the next couple of practices, beginning Thursday night, will test how much they’ve processed so far.
“It’s really the look on their face when you break the huddle,” Rodgers said of the signs of progress he sees. “Whether you’re relaying a checkdown with them, or looking at them to verify which way the run is going.”
As for where this team is going, time will tell. Running back is just one position Rodgers knows the Packers will be leaning on young players at some point in 2017.
Green Bay brought in more veteran free agents than normal this past offseason at several spots – tight end, offensive line (Jahri Evans), defensive line (Ricky Jean Francois), and cornerback (Davon House).
But youth needing to shine in the spotlight will be necessary at some point. It’s the nature of the league in general and the Packers in particular.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Rodgers said. “We have to rely on the young players here. That’s how this team has been created and how it continues to function. The coaches put a lot into the coaching and teaching of those guys, and the players have an expectation to lead and push those guys in the right direction.
“Because when it comes down to it, with the injury rate in this league, we’re always counting on young guys to make plays in certain situations, and we expect those guys to be ready and make those plays, and we’re excited to see them grow this year.”