GREEN BAY – It didn’t take long for Lance Kendricks to realize Aaron Rodgers is a different kind of quarterback.
During OTAs this past spring, Kendricks ran his share of crossing routes as the Packers focused on their passing game in non-padded practices.
He soon noticed that the same cross doesn’t always produce the same throw from Rodgers, because the two-time MVP QB deftly tries to maximize each play’s chances of success.
“His delivery of the ball is probably most impressive – him being able to slow the ball down when you’re trying to run under it, or speed it up when he knows a defender’s coming, that’s very rare,” Kendricks said earlier this month. “And it’s pretty cool.”
Adjusting to fastballs and change-ups wasn’t all Kendricks zoned in on, though, as one of two free-agent additions to the Green Bay offense at tight end.
Like position mate Martellus Bennett, Kendricks had to dive into the playbook when offseason workouts started and begin learning the Packers’ terminology.
Once on the field, he also started picking up on Rodgers’ checks and changes at the line of scrimmage. Even if those adjustments didn’t involve him, Kendricks would ask his new QB after the play to learn exactly what was going on.
All in all, the Milwaukee native and former Wisconsin Badger considered it a “smooth transition” to his new team in his home state.
“Like anything else, the more reps you take the more familiar you get at it,” he said. “An offense like this is unique and dynamic. You move around and line up everywhere.”
That in a nutshell was perhaps Kendricks’ biggest strength in his first six NFL seasons with the Rams. While he put up solid if unspectacular numbers in an up-and-down Rams offense – two seasons of 40-plus catches, two with 499-plus yards, three with at least four TDs – Kendricks proved his value as an all-around asset.
“Lance is versatile,” Green Bay tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said. “In the past when he was with St. Louis, you see him in backfield, in line, split out. You kind of see him doing everything, and he takes pride in that. He’s kind of that guy. If you need something, he has the ability to fill those roles.”
He also could be the perfect foil, personality-wise, to Bennett, whose outsized, gregarious approach to life adds a new dynamic to the Packers’ locker room.
Kendricks is more quiet and reserved, so much so that left tackle David Bakhtiari, who has worked out in the offseason in Los Angeles with Kendricks and Rodgers, gives his new teammate grief for never saying anything.
Angelichio noted that Kendricks will share his perspective in the meeting room and talks plenty, even showing a sense of humor at times, so the partnership with Bennett should work just fine. Bennett is also a recent Super Bowl champion after a decade in the league while Kendricks has yet to qualify for the NFL playoffs in his career.
“Yeah, they kind of balance each other out,” Angelichio said. “They’ve both played a bunch of years in this league, they’re both different personalities, both been successful, both shown to be good teammates, both shown they like to work. It’s good. It’s a good mix.”
The Packers almost certainly will employ Bennett, Kendricks and fourth-year pro Richard Rodgers in more double-tight-end sets than they’ve run in recent years, and what that means to the offense will unfold over time.
Rodgers may often be deciphering at the line whether run or pass is the better option based on the defensive alignment and personnel. The tight ends could be the key, determining whether they have a mismatch as run-blockers or route-runners.
“There’s a lot of different things we can do, so we’ll see what happens,” Kendricks said.
That makes the getting-to-know process with Rodgers all the more important. The offseason L.A. workouts actually helped get it started, and Rodgers even suggested he was “pulling for” Kendricks to sign with the Packers after the Rams released him.
“It all worked out in its way,” Kendricks said, emphasizing that he has to make sure his return home as a professional is more motivation than distraction. After all, he’s now practicing inside (or adjacent to) the same Don Hutson Center where he competed in a Punt, Pass & Kick competition as a teenager.
The present is exciting enough, of course, without reminiscing about the past. Success with his childhood team will depend on figuring out which type of Rodgers pass is coming his way next.
“More than anything, it’s the familiarity with Aaron – how he wants things, getting on the same page with the routes, some of the signals, just the whole mannerisms of how the operation works,” Angelichio said. “That’s the biggest thing.”