GREEN BAY – The Packers' 2022 training camp got underway Wednesday with a roughly 90-minute, non-padded practice at Ray Nitschke Field.
Here are five things we learned.
1. Aaron Rodgers is enjoying his reunion with longtime QB coach Tom Clements.
The four-time MVP quarterback will find motivation anywhere, and he opened training camp fully focused on impressing Clements, who has returned to the Packers' coaching staff after five years away.
Following a solid first day for the No. 1 offense in 11-on-11 work – which included Rodgers hitting Allen Lazard on a free play and later a deep ball for a circus catch, Juwann Winfree on a go route against tight coverage from Eric Stokes, and Amari Rodgers on an inside move off a pump fake – Rodgers said he got a fist bump from Clements, "which is really hard to get," and he was rather pleased about pleasing his mentor.
"Tom doesn't realize when I was a young player I wanted nothing more than to make Tom Clements happy," Rodgers said. "It was incredible motivation for me because I would have great games in my opinion – 100 quarterback rating, three touchdowns – and Tom would give me a minus performance. I'd say, that mother … .
"But it motivated me because I loved that Tom held me accountable in more ways than just the stat sheet. It was all about the fundamentals, the decision making, the footwork and stuff that really actually has molded me into the quarterback I am today. So on Day 1 to get fist bump, I said, 'Tom, you haven't seen me play in a while. That was for you.' So that felt good.
Clements was Rodgers' position coach for six years (2006-11) and then offensive coordinator and associate head coach for five more seasons before stepping away from the game temporarily, spending two seasons in Arizona (2019-20), and then coming out of a one-year retirement to return to Green Bay.
Clements said during the offseason getting a chance to work with Rodgers again was the primary reason he came back. If Rodgers is out to prove it'll be worth it, he's off to a strong start.
"I wanted to show Tom that I could still do it. I really did," Rodgers said. "I love Tom. I have a deep appreciation, admiration, respect for what he meant to me as a young player, and now that I'm an old player and he's back in the game, it's fun to show him what he's been missing."
2. The offense's good first day was somewhat unexpected, given the injuries on that side of the ball.
The Packers are without their two best offensive linemen (David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins), a top tight end (Robert Tonyan), and two receivers with big aspirations (Sammy Watkins, Christian Watson), yet functioned just fine, which Rodgers took as a good sign.
"I like what we did Day 1, and you look around and you realize at some point 85's going to be back and 69 will back and 74 will be back … there's a lot of guys that's going to add to this mix, so we're going to build," Rodgers said. "I felt coming into camp, to be honest, we were going to get our butts kicked most days because our defense is talented and deep and athletic. It's one of the best defenses on paper that we've had, but I told those chumps, '1-0 offense.'"
Rodgers cautioned the offense's success will be difficult to replicate on a daily basis against defensive coordinator Joe Barry's unit, but any upcoming struggles will be valuable to battle through as well.
"The offense is going to take some lumps – especially when the pads go on, I think," Rodgers said. "Because our defensive line is pretty stout. And I think we need that. We need to go against a top-notch defense every single day and kind of get it handed to us.
"Today was definitely an offensive day, but we're going to take our lumps, and I look forward to that because it's going to build some character I think, through the adversity we have to face as an offense after some of the pieces that we don't have right now."
3. Bakhtiari is making no promises, but he's doing better than at this time last year.
Bakhtiari's long rehab and recovery, which has included multiple surgeries since the original ACL injury in late 2020, has been "a nightmare" for the five-time All-Pro left tackle.
Little has gone according to plan, and he's had to manage a lot of frustrations in his efforts to get healthy again. He told reporters he's no longer dealing with the ACL but other issues in his knee, though he's optimistic everything may finally be on the right track.
"Everyone loves timelines. When I'm ready, I'll be out there, and what I can say is I do feel really good," he said. "I feel normal. My knee feels normal and that's the biggest plus. Now it's just getting that normal feeling again when I play football, so that's what it is – the load, stress, strength."
4. The offensive line has a very different look to start camp.
With Bakhtiari and Jenkins out, the No. 1 offensive line during 11-on-11 work had Yosh Nijman at left tackle, Jon Runyan at left guard, Josh Myers at center, Jake Hanson at right guard and Royce Newman at right tackle.
Two of the rookie draft picks up front, third-rounder Sean Rhyan and fourth-rounder Zach Tom, were on the No. 2 unit at right guard and left tackle, respectively. Seventh-round pick Rasheed Walker is out with an injury.
Hanson, a sixth-round pick in 2020, qualifies as a surprise with the starters after spending his first two seasons mostly on the practice squad or injured reserve. He was also working at center on the No. 2 line. Newman, a fourth-round pick last year, started as a rookie at right guard but started getting more work at tackle this past spring.
5. Winfree's diving catch on the deep ball was an important moment.
Lazard's leaping, juggling, deflected catch while falling to the ground alongside safety Adrian Amos was the fanciest highlight of the first day. But Winfree's contested grab on the go route against Stokes was probably the most significant.
Winfree, a sixth-round pick by Denver in 2019 who spent most of 2020 on the Packers' practice squad, was attracting a lot of attention last year following a productive spring and start to training camp before injuries struck. He came back to appear in seven games, catching eight passes for 58 yards in limited duty.
With Watkins and Watson sidelined, Winfree is beginning camp taking reps with the No. 1 offense, and it was no small matter that he came through.
Rodgers noted going deep to a receiver who's one-on-one on the outside like Winfree was serves as a sign of trust, and making the tough catch against solid coverage by a starting corner will only encourage more looks his way.
It was just the first day, but it was a good first impression in what will be a crowded receiver competition when everyone's healthy.
"I wouldn't be surprised if 88's over there going, 'Hey, I'm a pretty damn good football player. Don't forget about me,'" Rodgers said. "Because when he shows up and when he's healthy, he makes a lot of plays."