GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers was back in his element on Tuesday afternoon at Ray Nitschke Field.
The Packers quarterback, participating in his 11th offseason program in Green Bay, was flinging passes down the field and building a rapport with the few new faces littered throughout the offense during the first public practice of organized team activities.
While Jordy Nelson inches closer to a return from reconstructive knee surgery, the past few weeks have allowed Rodgers to work with the incoming rookie class and newly signed tight end Jared Cook.
“It’s nice to be back on the field. I feel like I’m in good shape,” said Rodgers, who underwent minor knee surgery after the 2015 season.
“I had a good offseason, workouts, good rehab on my knee. Feeling definitely a lot better than last year at the end of the season. It’s fun to be out there with the guys. Love to get Jordy out there at some point, but it’s fun to see the young guys and then a couple of the guys we brought in.”
One thing that time has taught Rodgers is the importance of the summer workout program. It’s not just on the field, either. It’s also getting to know the new additions to the roster.
Rodgers, now 32, has noticed over time that wide-eyed rookies sometimes can be apprehensive about approaching him.
A part of being a two-time NFL MVP is helping establish relationships and building bridges, particularly with a receivers group that’s as young as the Packers’.
Out of the 12 receivers on the Packers’ roster, only Nelson was born prior to 1990.
“There’s a lot of ’90s babies in here,” Rodgers said with a laugh. “They might not feel comfortable asking those questions right away, so you have to kind of break down and have an ice-breaker, whether it’s a joke or a nickname or a funny anecdote that you read about them.
“You just have to be intentional about it and find time to talk to those guys. The more comfortable that they feel with you, the more comfortable they’re going to be in asking questions. The more questions that they ask – in an appropriate time – then we can start to get on the same page.”
One of those players is fifth-round draft pick Trevor Davis, who is a University of California alumnus like Rodgers. Davis jokingly said shortly after his arrival that he wasn’t sure how he’d go about approaching his new quarterback.
Fortunately, he never had to thanks to Rodgers.
“You have to move toward them. You have to initiate conversation with them,” Rodgers said. “He’s extremely gifted with his speed, but he’s also an intelligent guy from Cal. ... He’s a good kid. He cares about it a lot. He puts in a lot of time.”
On the field, the central part of gaining Rodgers’ trust comes down to preparation, and it’s a two-way street.
Rodgers, himself, had to keep his head in the playbook this offseason in advance of the changes the team has made with personnel declarations and the installation of new plays.
Rodgers believes it’s about pushing the right buttons. That process started this week with OTAs and stretches into training camp now less than two months away.
“If they’re making sure they’re coming prepared with their routes and their responsibilities on plays, that’s how they can start the conversation,” Rodgers said. “Those guys have nothing to worry about. It’s early. There’s a lot of football in front of us this summer and we have a lot of time to get to know each other and get on the same page.”
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