GREEN BAY – Trailing by a touchdown to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, Brett Hundley stepped to the line of scrimmage in a traditional “11” personnel package with three receivers, a tight end and a running back.
With Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb flanked to his left and Davante Adams off to his right, the Packers quarterback took the shotgun snap from center Corey Linsley and quickly fired a pass to Richard Rodgers seven yards down the seam.
With the game on the line, the fourth-year tight end caught the pass in stride and avoided a pair of tacklers to push the ball to the Steelers’ 48-yard line. The 25-yard catch sparked the Packers on a 12-play, 77-yard drive that ended in a 4-yard Jamaal Williams touchdown run.
These are the type of plays the Packers have come to expect out of Rodgers, the quiet and unassuming veteran who has done everything the Packers have asked of him over the past four seasons without complaint.
A third-round pick in 2014, the 6-4, 257-pound tight end hasn’t missed a game in a career that’s seen him catch 115 passes for 1,085 yards and 12 touchdowns in 66 games with 25 starts (including playoffs).
This year, however, Rodgers’ role changed slightly with the offseason addition of veterans Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. Opportunities weren’t as easy to come by, resulting in Rodgers catching only three passes for 38 yards prior to the Packers’ Week 8 bye.
“I can’t say enough about Richard,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought he did some really good things in the Pittsburgh game. I’m very pleased with not only way he’s responded to his opportunities, but also you look at, here’s a guy that’s played a lot of football for us, and then wasn’t playing a whole lot earlier in the year. He’s the same man every day, as far as work ethic. He’s always available.”
Rodgers spent the first seven games splitting No. 2 reps with Kendricks behind Bennett, who had played more than 80 percent of the offensive snaps before he was waived Nov. 9.
Teammates and coaches know the adjustment couldn’t have been easy for Rodgers, who played nearly 800 offensive snaps when he became only the fourth tight end in franchise history to eclipse 55 catches in a season with 58 in 2015.
It was during that season Rodgers caught one of the most memorable passes in the career of two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the form of a game-winning 61-yard Hail Mary to beat Detroit 27-23 as time expired at Ford Field.
Rodgers split tight-end duties with veteran Jared Cook last season before the team added Bennett and Kendricks this offseason. Yet, he never once voiced any dissatisfaction about having his snaps reduced.
“Richard’s always been a steady guy for us,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Even with the situation that came up with Marty and Lance coming in. Obviously it’s not what he wanted, but still was extremely professional about it, continued to grind it out, do what he needed to do to be prepared. He’s a true professional. He knows what he’s supposed to do. I think he’s solid in all aspects, and that’s what we expect from him.”
Rodgers has played 139 offensive snaps in the four games since the bye week, more than doubling the 58 snaps on offense through the first seven games, while his 25-yard catch against Pittsburgh was his longest reception since catching a 34-yard touchdown pass in the Packers’ 34-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys in last January’s NFC Divisional playoffs.
Known for his steady hands, Rodgers has proven to be a tight end both Aaron Rodgers and Hundley have confidence in regardless of the scenario.
“He’s been put through a lot,” said receiver Davante Adams, who trains with Rodgers during the offseason. “I think now he’s stepping into more of a leadership role. You can see it. You can see him trying to help other positions, helping me out. We talk about football a lot outside the building as well. I know it means a lot to him, and he’s definitely another guy who cares about the details a lot.”
Rodgers doesn’t view his current situation any differently than the past few years. His job is the same regardless of whether he’s playing every snap like he did in 2015 or working his way back in the lineup like he has this season.
“I’m just trying to do what the coaches ask me to do,” Rodgers said. “I wouldn’t say I’ve been doing more of it. Two years ago I played almost every snap. I’ve been doing the same thing I’ve been doing since I got here.”