GREEN BAY – A pair of wry smiles awaited Aaron Rodgers as the Packers quarterback stepped out of the Don Hutson Center and onto the practice field Thursday afternoon.
His backups, DeShone Kizer and Tim Boyle, greeted the two-time NFL MVP with a round of applause in tongue-in-cheek recognition of Rodgers' first Thursday practice in pads since injuring his knee in the season opener against Chicago.
Rodgers played right along with the gesture, taking off his helmet and waving appreciatively to an imaginary crowd like he was walking off No. 18 at Augusta National.
It was a fitting way to welcome Rodgers back to padded practice. Since leading a remarkable comeback in the opener against the Bears two weeks ago, Rodgers' only on-field work had come during the team's final, non-padded Saturday practice.
Rodgers' second-half performance against Chicago – 17-of-23 for 273 yards and three touchdowns – spurred Boyle to buy a No. 12 jersey from the Packers Pro Shop and proudly wear it around the facility the next day. With Rodgers back in pads Thursday, his understudy made sure to christen the moment in an appropriate manner.
"I looked at DeShone and was like, 'Let's give him a little bit of something,' and he played into it," Boyle said. "It's all good. All supporting each other and making sure he gets what he needs for the game Sunday."
All kidding aside, the Packers were happy to have Rodgers back in the Thursday rotation. With Jimmy Graham (knee) also back after sitting out Wednesday, Green Bay had all of its offensive starters on the field besides right guard Justin McCray (shoulder).
Rodgers said he was hopeful to practice again "at some point" prior to Saturdays when speaking to the media Wednesday, and Thursday turned out to be that day.
"The guy, obviously, is an outstanding competitor, whether it's a competitive period, per se, or just him being him," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He's a really good communicator with the offensive guys. He loves to compete against the defensive guys. You know, I think it just brings additional energy to the practice field. I think we all felt that today."
While Rodgers has worked with his receivers on routes and communication in the meeting room, there's an undeniable benefit to being the one throwing the passes with the starting offense in practice.
The domino effect of having Rodgers on the field extends well past the offense, as well. Even a veteran defender like Clay Matthews notices an uptick in energy during practice when Rodgers is on the field.
"It's good to see your franchise quarterback, your No. 1 player out there," Matthews said. "It just kind of brings the spirit up of everybody, obviously, knowing that your guy who's going to be out there Sunday is out there practicing.
"He's dealing with his own injury and has to take care of himself – because Sunday's the most important day – but to have him out there to see how things are going to flow on game day, it's always good to see."
Rodgers said he feels "good about my movement" after 2½ weeks of playing through the injury. He often forgets about it once the adrenaline of game day kicks in, only to feel it occasionally come up and grab him. It's his hope that part of it will eventually go away at some point this season.
Boyle, who was kept active as the No. 3 quarterback two weeks ago against Minnesota, watches in awe of Rodgers' effectiveness through the injury. Through three games, Rodgers has completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 832 yards, six touchdowns and no turnovers (104.5 passer rating).
The Packers were back at Clarke Hinkle Field for practice ahead of Sunday's matchup with Buffalo.
"Best in the biz. He is. He's the best in the business," Boyle said. "I'm learning how competitive he is and how much he really does not like being in here. He wants to be out there with us.
"It kind of puts things in perspective that a guy who's getting paid that much money (and) has that high of a status, most guys would want to (be) in here and rehab his knee, but he's itching to get out there. So it's good to see him out there."
Now the question is does Boyle have any intention of busting out the No. 12 jersey again anytime soon?
"It was probably 90 percent out of respect and 10 percent to get a little bit of a reaction out of him," Boyle said. "Hopefully, he gets another crazy win for us like Week 1 and I can come in here and wear it again."