GREEN BAY – Richard Rodgers is about as quiet and unassuming as a 6-4, 257-pound football player can be.
So the second-year tight end’s reaction to an impressive, diving one-handed catch along the sideline in Tuesday’s practice was typically understated.
“It was just a little out in front of me. If I was faster, I could have caught it with two hands,” Rodgers said, cracking a smile. “I have to work on my speed.”
A year ago at this time, Rodgers had to work on a lot more than that. As a rookie, he was just trying to keep up with the playbook, and he really didn’t come into his own until the final six weeks of the season.
This year, he’s focused on his blocking and special-teams play. Head Coach Mike McCarthy referred to some “dominant” snaps on special teams, giving him credit for blocking two punts in practice.
Improvement in those areas will make him the complete player the Packers were hoping for when they drafted him in the third round last year. As far as the passing game goes, it’s clear he already has the trust of the coaches and quarterbacks.
“I just know what I’m doing out there now. It’s not really a learning process anymore,” Rodgers said. “I’m not trying to learn the playbook. I already know what’s going on. I think every second-year player has that and can move a little bit faster and probably look more natural.”
Youth is abundant at inside linebacker on the defensive side, particularly with Clay Matthews sitting out another practice with a sore knee.
On Tuesday, it was rookie fourth-round pick Jake Ryan’s turn to line up next to starter Sam Barrington with the No. 1 defense (Nate Palmer was the guy on Monday). Snaps with the first unit are always beneficial for young players, even if Ryan called them “just reps.”
Getting his shots with the ones is a reflection of how well he’s picked up the scheme. For that, he credits Barrington and his other inside linebacker mates, as well as playing for Michigan defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Greg Mattison in college.
A former defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, Mattison had a “huge” playbook, according to Ryan. While acknowledging there are mistakes made with every new install, Ryan sounded like a player ready to respond to McCarthy’s challenge for the inside linebackers to start “making more plays.”
“Absolutely. Inside linebackers are like the captain of the defense, so it’s our job to make the calls, get people lined up,” Ryan said. “Absolutely there’s going to be more plays.”
Two players, one on each side of the ball, making plays daily in practice are rookie receiver Ty Montgomery and third-year outside linebacker Andy Mulumba.
Montgomery snagged an Aaron Rodgers dart over the middle that safety Morgan Burnett nearly picked off, and Montgomery then ended practice by catching a TD from Scott Tolzien in no-huddle work.
Mulumba is continuing an impressive comeback from ACL surgery by getting noticed both against the run and in the pass rush. He said he’s still not 100 percent, believing he will be next month when he’s a full year removed from his injury, but he’s trusting the knee and not thinking about it when he’s on the field.
That’s a positive step, as Mulumba looks to return to the role of special-teams regular and outside linebacker option he was settling into before getting hurt last year.
“Once I get to 100 percent, maybe right when we start the season, I’ll be able to let it loose,” he said. “If I can keep showing up and stay consistent in camp, I can earn (the coaches’) trust and they can feel more comfortable playing me when needed.”