GREEN BAY—Aaron Rodgers is on a snap count in training camp for the first time in his nine-year career and, thus far, the results are exactly what the Packers intended.
Rodgers said on Wednesday that his arm and legs have remained fresh, which he attributes to coming into camp in the best shape of his career and to a reduced workload compared to past summers.
“It’s been a lot lighter, and I’ve appreciated it,” Rodgers said. “Last year there were times when (the first-team offense) took 60 out of 70 snaps in practice. That’s tough for anybody, whether you’re in year one or year eight.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy suggested he’d reduce Rodgers’ camp reps, and he has followed through on that promise. He feels Rodgers, who’s heading into his ninth season, found his rhythm and timing a little sooner this year and believes his star quarterback is “in a good place.”
For his part, Rodgers says he’s “having a blast” leading a young team, and his sharpness in practice hasn’t been diminished by the injuries that have sidelined Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, among other receivers.
“I feel like I’m where I should be,” Rodgers said. “I’m the longest tenured Packer here. I’ve seen a lot. I’m playing obviously fast, but my mind is slow, which is where you want to be when you’re in live drills.
“I like the vibe of this team. I like the atmosphere surrounding this locker room.”
One vibe he noted is the unselfishness he senses amongst his offensive teammates as the coaching staff pushes to improve the running game. The backfield is still dealing with some injuries – Eddie Lacy and DuJuan Harris were cleared for more contact on Wednesday, with Lacy doing more in the team drills, while James Starks rested with an illness – but the emphasis on the run in practice is obvious, particularly with the number of half-line drills.
Without mentioning specifics, Rodgers acknowledged that his passing statistics could decline this season, but that might be good for the team.
“You look at the guys we’ve got in the backfield this year, it’s probably the best running back (group) we’ve had in my nine years as a whole,” he said. “That could mean the (passing) numbers might go down a little bit, but the most important thing, as we’ve stressed to the guys on offense, it’s about winning and playing well.
“If we can have a balanced attack this year, I think that means sustained, consistent play, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
A key step toward consistency will be to settle things on the offensive line, which has seen a lot of different combinations and player shuffling since Bryan Bulaga went down and rookie David Bakhtiari stepped in at left tackle.
Right guard T.J. Lang’s return on Wednesday from a back injury allowed the full-fledged competition at right tackle to continue, with Don Barclay – who had been filling in for Lang the past couple of days – taking the first snap with the No. 1 unit on Wednesday, ahead of Marshall Newhouse.
McCarthy didn’t put a timeline on naming a starting five up front, but he said he’ll continue to let Barclay and Newhouse battle it out until the best choice emerges.
“It’s really the responsibility of the players,” McCarthy said. “They have to make it clear who’s the starter. It’s not up to me.”
This week’s preseason game in St. Louis could go a long way in deciding things, and in getting Bakhtiari prepped for the regular season.
Rodgers called this road trip a “very important week,” as the Packers’ tackles will be facing pass rushers Chris Long and Robert Quinn on artificial turf in a noisy dome.
“This is a great test,” Rodgers said. “You watch the film from last year, they were getting after us, getting hits on me early. It’s going to be important for those guys to get into a rhythm and for David getting used to what the noise is like.” Additional coverage - Aug. 14