GREEN BAY – In the aftermath of last season, Richard Rodgers had a goal for 2016.
Going into his third NFL season, the Packers’ tight end was looking to trim down to around 257 pounds, his NFL Scouting Combine weight from two years ago.
Rodgers, who played anywhere from 270 to 275 pounds last season, understood what it could mean for his game and worked tirelessly to hit the target in the six months leading up to training camp.
The early returns appear promising. When the Packers took the field for their first camp practice on Tuesday, Rodgers looked visibly leaner and felt faster in his routes.
“It helps being lighter just getting in and out of breaks, getting to points faster on the field,” said Rodgers, who hopes to play around 255 this season.
“It’s not a huge difference but it makes a big difference with the timing with Aaron (Rodgers) and getting used to it. Being able to run full speed the whole time instead of three or four plays just running full speed. Now I can run full speed every time I run a route.”
Comparatively, Rodgers has been among the most productive tight ends from the 2014 draft class, with 78 catches for 735 yards and 10 touchdowns in 32 games (17 starts).
He had the biggest game of his career last December in Detroit with his catch of a 61-yard Hail Mary for a 27-23 win over the Lions. Rodgers finished with a career-high eight catches for 146 yards.
Rodgers caught 58 passes and tied for a team-high eight touchdowns, but his 8.8 yards per catch left both him and the Packers wanting more.
This offseason, Packers receiver Davante Adams saw firsthand how seriously Rodgers took the challenge. The two Californians and close friends frequently worked out together at the University of California-Berkley.
Despite training in hot gymnasiums, Rodgers always arrived for the workout dressed for fall.
“I got to see it when we’re doing cardio, he has a hoodie on in a hot gym,” Adams said. “We’re in there working, putting in the work and it’s hard. With a guy his body type, it’s not always easy to keep his weight down. To put the extra work in like that, it just shows how dedicated he is and how much it means to him.”
Rodgers didn’t do anything drastic to lose the 15-20 pounds, but rather followed a similar routine to what he did during his time at Cal when he played his senior year around 245-250 pounds.
To cut the weight, he tightened up his diet, removing “some bad things” and concentrated on his cardio, which included a lot of running, biking and playing basketball.
“That’s really all you can do to lose weight if you’re as big as I am,” Rodgers said. “You just have to get on the bike, run on the treadmill and try to get in as much cardio as you can.”
He’s noticed a difference so far. The signing of veteran tight end Jared Cook should lessen Rodgers’ load in 2016, but he feels confident about his ability to play as much as needed.
His workload could be heavier at the get-go with Cook starting training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after undergoing foot surgery during the offseason.
Cook said he began feeling a sharp pain in his foot during the third week of organized team activities. He practiced on it for a week before finally mentioning it to the training staff.
Given the choice, he opted to have preventive surgery on the foot.
“It was nothing serious,” said Cook, who had 39 catches for 481 yards in 16 games with the Rams last season.
“It was just preventative measures. I didn’t want it to prolong and something happen later on down the road like in-season.
“We were being safe and they wanted to be even more safe.”
The Packers are excited about the potential of Cook and Rodgers, and the mismatches they could present for an opposing defense.
Those opportunities weren’t available throughout most of last season after Andrew Quarless injured his knee against Kansas City in Week 3.
“Obviously the Patriots have done that a lot,” said Rodgers of two tight-end packages. “Using two tight ends is beneficial to the team and really whatever personnel you can get out there that can confuse the defense is beneficial to the team.”
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