GREEN BAY—A year ago at this time, Richard Rodgers was in the process of losing 30 pounds so he could play wide receiver.
This past weekend at rookie orientation in Green Bay, he was glad to be back at his old gig.
“I like playing tight end,” said Rodgers, whom the Packers drafted in the third round out of California. “I missed it last year when I was playing receiver. I realized how much I liked blocking in-line and being closer to people and not being out in space and blocking little guys.”
Rodgers didn’t exactly enjoy becoming a “little guy” last year, but he did so at the behest of Cal’s new coaching staff so he could play. He wasn’t given a choice.
Getting back up into the 260-pound neighborhood has made him feel more like himself, and seeing on the Packers’ offensive film last weekend the many ways tight ends are used in Mike McCarthy’s system has him fired up about what lies ahead.
“They flex them out, sometimes they keep them in the backfield, they do everything pretty much,” Rodgers said. “It’s a lot of learning, but you have to be willing to do that.”
Rodgers is willing, and in a perfect world, he’ll be able to combine his earlier college experience as a tight end with his exposure to playing receiver to become the hybrid, multi-use weapon regularly featured in Green Bay’s offense.
It will be a process, though, and that process for Rodgers starts with re-learning all the fundamentals that applied to his first two seasons in college as more of a pure tight end.
“I just need to work on a lot of things, a lot of little things,” he said. “Whatever I can take technically from the coaches – getting your first step in the ground, your second step, making contact, helmet placement, things like that – just the little things help you playing tight end.
“It’s a little bit like starting over.”
Depending on what happens with Jermichael Finley, the Packers could be close to starting over at the position soon enough.
Veteran Andrew Quarless was re-signed and special-teams ace Ryan Taylor is back, but the long-term future at tight end could depend on developmental prospects such as Rodgers.
Brandon Bostick and Jake Stoneburner return after seeing their first pro action last year, while Rodgers joins the newcomers, who include undrafted rookies Justin Perillo and Colt Lyerla. An intriguing athlete and pass-catcher, Lyerla was signed following a rookie weekend tryout after being passed over during the draft and rookie free agency due to various off-the-field issues. Based solely on football talent, he likely would have been drafted well ahead of Rodgers, who went 98th overall.
Given the investment the Packers made in him, Rodgers will be squarely in the mix as the depth chart gets sorted out through OTAs and training camp.
He’ll get to catch passes for the first time from his namesake from Cal and talk again about his dad’s involvement in “The Play” from the 1982 Cal-Stanford game, but none of that will alter his focus.
He’s here to grow back into his old self, at his old job, and see how he fits in this offense.
“That excites me,” he said. “I want to learn as much as I can about the game. I think the coaches here do a great job teaching, and I love it here.” Another draft pick feature: