GREEN BAY – Whether or not he takes any more snaps in the preseason, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers feels good about where the offense is and where it’s headed in 2018.
Speaking at his locker after Tuesday’s practice, Rodgers spoke of the unknowns being how long it might take for the offense to reach its peak, and just exactly what that peak will be.
The fact that he doesn’t know yet? That’s OK.
“September 9th, we’ll know if we’re ready,” Rodgers said, referring to the date of the regular-season opener against the Bears. “You can feel like you’re ready, but until you get out there and it’s for real and it counts, and you’re adjusting on the fly and you’re having to make quick reactions and non-verbal communication, that’s when you know you’re ready. So we’re going to be a work in progress.”
He emphasized, though, that calling the offense a work in progress isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Our baseline I think will be dangerous, and where it can go is above that,” he said. “But it’s not going to start that way.”
With two new tight ends in Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, a new starting right guard in Justin McCray, and a new pecking order at receiver sans Jordy Nelson, the entire unit will need time to come together.
But practices and preseason games are never enough to test and gauge everything because the intensity and pressure of live, regular-season game action is an animal all its own.
“I don’t think you can line up this offense and say from Day 1 it’s going to be a super, super smooth oiled machine,” Rodgers said. “That’s not to mean we can’t be dynamic, because I think we can.
“But until you can consistently do it on the field when it matters, in crunch time, on big third downs, on money downs in the red zone, we’re going to be a work in progress. But a pretty tough-to-stop work in progress, I think.”
Practices like Tuesdays help to get some of that work done and progress made, especially during an extensive, third-down blitz drill that pitted the No. 1 offense and defense against one another.
On Monday, Rodgers felt the defense “kicked our (butt)” in a similar session, but the offense sharpened up on Tuesday. A deep seam pass to rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who made a leaping catch, and a crossing route to veteran Randall Cobb were two standout plays against heavy pressure.
The defense still had its moments, too, including one when linebacker Blake Martinez came knifing through the middle unblocked on a blitz.
A master at diagnosing pressures, changing protection calls, and getting the ball out, Rodgers was caught by surprise that time, the type of play that has him just as excited for the direction of the defense this season.
“They made an adjustment on me today that I haven’t seen in the league for a while,” he said. “Very impressive stuff. You love to see it from that side of the ball, and it’s exciting once we get into real games that count to watch those guys and the full package of plays and adjustments they can do.”
While the offense continues to sort out who its top reserves up front are going to be – Byron Bell is filling in for an injured McCray for the moment at right guard, while Lucas Patrick is taking a lot of reps as the No. 2 center, and Kyle Murphy and Jason Spriggs continue to compete for next-man-up at tackle – the defense is looking as healthy as it’s been all camp.
Rodgers continues to be impressed with the implementation of the new scheme, and he’s sensing a full-fledged buy-in from the calm and comfort level he’s seeing on Mike Pettine’s unit.
“There’s a natural confidence and ease on that side of the ball,” he said. “There’s not any angst or a lot of frustration shown. Mike D. doesn’t have to be yelling all over the place. There’s a different feel to it.”
The feel on offense is that it’s coming. It’s coming along just fine.
“We’re going to be in the right place,” Rodgers said.