At age 30, Aaron Rodgers understands the importance of flexibility – in more ways than one.
As a result, the Green Bay Packers quarterback feels great physically, and he’s trying to be positive about personnel changes on the offensive side of the ball.
He is excited about the possibilities with his new wide receivers. He likes the vibe the arrival of Julius Peppers has brought to the locker room. And he and his new position coach are building on the close relationship they already had.
Other than being a bit apprehensive about the idea of his fourth opening-day center in four years, life is pretty good for Rodgers a week into organized team activity practices.
“I’m OK right now,” Rodgers said with a smile after last week’s open OTA practice.
It begins with his health, having suffered through his first extended injury-induced time on the sideline last season following a Nov. 4 fractured left collarbone. The injury occurred on the opening series of what would end up being a home loss to the Chicago Bears, and Rodgers would miss the next seven games. The Packers went 2-5-1 before Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale in Chicago, where he threw a game-winning 48-yard, fourth-down, last-minute touchdown pass to Randall Cobb to send the Packers to the playoffs and their third straight NFC North title.
While Rodgers said he did alter his offseason workouts slightly in the wake of the injury – “There were some things I shied away from, some heavy lifting, especially shoulder stuff in the offseason,” he said – he said he didn’t have any lingering effects from it. He simply rehabbed the injury, did his normal workout routine and added yoga to his regimen.
“I did a lot of yoga,” Rodgers said, who then joked with a reporter about needing to do yoga himself. “A lot of flexibility [is about] helping with those injuries as you get older. … I just had to rest and get into my routine when I did. I did my rehab and took it slow and feel good.”
Rodgers also feels good about the team’s addition of Peppers, the former Bears defensive end who was cut by Chicago and signed with the Packers on March 15. Rodgers has been outspoken in applauding the move, and he doesn’t seem inclined to stop now. He also likes the addition of lesser-known veteran defensive lineman Letroy Guion, the potential improvement of some of his younger teammates and the addition of the rookies taken during the draft.
“We’re going to wait on some of those guesses and goals and stuff. [But] it is exciting to look around and see a Julius Peppers here, to see a Letroy Guion right here, to see some of the guys we’ve added and to see some of the young guys,” Rodgers said. “As I did and as a lot of young guys here have done, there’s often big jumps between Years 1 and 2 and 2 and 3. A lot of guys have fit in those windows who are really looking to make big jumps. It will be exciting to watch those guys this spring, and then into the summer and then the fall and see what guys separate themselves and make this team and become big role players for us.”
A few of those players will be at wide receiver, where Rodgers had Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Donald Driver and Jarrett Boykin two years ago – and now only Nelson, Cobb and Boykin remain. Second-round pick Davante Adams, fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis and seventh-round pick Jeff Janis will compete with young veteran holdovers Myles White and Chris Harper to fill the void created by Jones, who went to Oakland as a free agent.
“We needed to add some depth there,” Rodgers said. “[I’m] excited about the guys we brought in; also excited about the possibility of some guys coming back. Jarrett came off a season where he really improved, Myles did some really nice things and Chris Harper showed signs as well during practice. There’s going to be a lot of competition and I would think some strong consideration about keeping an extra guy there as opposed to some years past.”
Rodgers chose his words carefully when asked about the center position, where Scott Wells was the opening day starter in 2011, Jeff Saturday in 2012, Evan Dietrich-Smith last season and presumably second-year man JC Tretter or rookie fifth-round pick Corey Linsley will get the call on Sept. 4. While he called Tretter, who basically took a medical redshirt last season after a broken ankle in the first OTA practice last spring, “a really bright guy,” he also made it clear that the youngsters will have to prove themselves in training camp.
“It is a big challenge. It’s tough,” said Rodgers, who had hoped the team would re-sign Dietrich-Smith, who signed as a free agent with Tampa Bay instead. “You’d like to play with one guy for an extended period of time. I thought that might be Scott, and then we brought in Jeff, which we knew was a short term thing and then Evan, again, a guy who made some strides and played really well. [I] thought that he was going to be the guy of the future, but we went in a different direction and we’ve got to get one of these young guys ready.
“Hopefully we can get a guy who can stick for five or six years. I think as a quarterback you really appreciate when you can have some continuity there and some consistently as far as the same guy being there for multiple years.”
When it was suggested that his mastery of the offense lessens the importance of the center being a veteran, Rodgers disagreed.
“I appreciate the faith in me, but I think that center’s a very vital position to every offense,” Rodgers replied. “Anybody who plays that spot has the luxury of playing with two of the smartest guys on our football team on either side of him in [guards] T.J. (Lang) and Josh (Sitton). I’m confident one of those guys will emerge and step up and be ready to play come Week 1.”
Asked about Rodgers’ apprehension about the center position, offensive coordinator Tom Clements wasn’t concerned.
“I don’t think anyone really likes change, but he adapts as well as anyone,” Clements said. “[Continuity] is always better, but it doesn’t always happen the way you want it to happen. There’s change every year. You have to adapt to it. And we’ll get the best player in there to help us.”
The other change for Rodgers is new quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, who slides over to replace Ben McAdoo after two seasons as the team’s running backs coach. Rodgers and Van Pelt, a former quarterback with the Buffalo Bills who coached quarterbacks in both Buffalo and Tampa Bay before joining the Packers staff, actually hit it off from the moment Van Pelt was hired in 2012, so that transition has been seamless.
And Van Pelt has liked what he’s seen from the now 30-year-old Rodgers, who’s entering his 10th NFL season and seventh as the starter.
“For a guy like him coming back for Year 9 in the offense, you want to see the drive, the fire, the competitiveness that he has,” Van Pelt said. “He’s had that [so far]. He’s locked in right now, and that’s what you want. A lot of guys can come in and slide through the cracks and get through the OTAs, but we’re getting stuff done, and it starts with him.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.