GREEN BAY – Four years ago, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers simply had to wait for his broken collarbone to heal.
This time, for everything that's different – the broken collarbone is in his throwing shoulder and was a "more intense injury" that required surgery – the waiting part hasn't changed.
"It's going to come down to the bone healing. That's the most important thing," Rodgers said on Friday at his locker, discussing his prospects for a return this season. Rodgers met with the media for the first time since taking the fateful hit from Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr back on Oct. 15.
"There won't be a decision made until that bone is healed, so it's not even a conversation if it's not where it needs to be."
The rules regarding a return from injured reserve require Rodgers to sit out at least six weeks of practice and eight weeks of games. Placed on IR Oct. 20, Rodgers is first eligible to return to practice in early December and first eligible to play in Week 15 at Carolina.
But he stressed that he's not on a timetable because it's all dependent on the healing process. He spent several days researching surgery options and potential ways to stimulate healing, and the course he's taken has him thinking positively.
At the same time, he cautioned to "temper expectations" because no matter how strong his desire is to get back on the field in 2017, the future scans of his shoulder will be the deciding factor.
"I'm always positive," he said, adding neither he nor the doctors have any concerns about long-term implications on his career from the injury and subsequent surgery.
"It comes down to how fast the bone heals. If it heals and we're in the right position, then there's a conversation. If the bone isn't healed, there's absolutely no conversation to be had."
Being in the right position would mean being in the postseason hunt, and much of that is up to Rodgers' backup, Brett Hundley, who is preparing to make his second NFL start. The Packers are 4-3 and will be either one or two games behind the NFC North-leading Vikings (6-2) depending on Monday night's result vs. Detroit.
Rodgers has been in meetings this week with Hundley, and the two have lockers next to one another, so they talk often. But Rodgers has no plans to be an overbearing presence in any efforts to help Hundley.
"Maybe stay out of the way, to be honest," Rodgers said, when asked the most important thing he can do. "It's giving him his space to be the guy, but helping him as much as he wants. He's a fantastic friend and player, and he's got an opportunity now.
"I'm around and I'm here to listen and to bounce things off of, but he's got a great quarterback coach and offensive coordinator and head coach who have been helping him out. My role is just to help him as much as I can and continue to give him the things he needs, as much or as little as that is."
Rodgers expressed the same confidence in Hundley that Mike McCarthy and others have, and in his three years with Hundley, Rodgers sees a teammate who "cares about it deeply" and has "natural leadership" ability.
"It's him getting comfortable, as a leader, in the huddle, and then playing," Rodgers said. "We can do a lot to help that out, just breeding confidence, but ultimately it's got to come from him and we have to find a way to get in a rhythm early so he can make the plays he's shown us in the preseason."
Being around his teammates again has definitely boosted Rodgers' spirits, as did getting a chance to work on his initial rehab in the 85-degree California sunshine. Those were a change for the better from the initial frustration and disappointment with the injury. Watching Hundley's first start against the Saints two weeks ago on TV wasn't easy, either.
As for the hit from Barr, which came after Rodgers scrambled to his right and threw downfield, the two-time MVP didn't say much with regards to his opinion of it.
"It was deemed a legal hit. You know that you don't have the same protection outside the pocket," he said. "A simple shove-down probably would have sufficed in that situation, but it is what it is."
So is the waiting game now.
"I want to be healthy, that's the most important thing," he said. "But if we're healthy in eight weeks and it would make sense to come back, then I'm going to come back."