Aaron Rodgers praises toughness of his veteran teammates

QB Aaron Rodgers and T Bryan Bulaga
QB Aaron Rodgers and T Bryan Bulaga

GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers couldn’t say enough about the toughness of two of his longtime offensive teammates.

That innate trait of receiver Davante Adams and right tackle Bryan Bulaga could get one or possibly both back on the field Sunday in Dallas.

Adams is further away at this point, having not yet returned to practice due to a toe injury from last Thursday’s game. But Rodgers isn’t ruling him out this week, and even if he’s unable to go against the Cowboys, the quarterback sounded confident his No. 1 target would be back sooner than later.

“Nothing really surprises me with ’17,’’ Rodgers said following Wednesday’s practice. “He’s one of those rare guys who just has that toughness about him and the ability to play through stuff.

“I look at the ’15 season when he was playing on one leg most of the year and you kept trying to tell him hey take some plays off, maybe take a week off, and he never wanted to. He wanted to be out there, and it speaks a lot to his personal drive and expectations and toughness. Nothing would surprise me with ‘17,’ but hopefully it’s this week or next week.”

The same personal drive also exists with Bulaga, who was back on the practice field in a limited capacity with his shoulder injury after sitting out Monday’s workout. With the Cowboys sporting established veterans of their own in edge rushers DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn, Bulaga’s presence would allow for the offensive adjustments to be focused elsewhere than up front.

The uncertainty with Adams and running back Jamaal Williams, who is in the concussion protocol, could cause enough change for an offense that was starting to find itself with a 491-yard output in the Week 4 loss to Philadelphia.

Like Adams, Bulaga has a history of doing whatever it takes to play, and the fact that he was back on the practice field at midweek was a good sign. There’s been no shortage of top-notch edge rushers Bulaga has matched up against already this season, and his performances have stood out.

“I remember back to when he tore his ACL on Family Night and finished the last 20 plays of practice,” Rodgers said, referring to 2013. “Again, that’s the kind of toughness you just can’t teach. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. He’s had it for years and dealt with some tough injuries over the years.

“It’s nice seeing ‘75’ out there. I think his grumpy nature sometimes is also what makes him so tough, because he has such high expectations for himself to be on the field and play and play through pain, and he’s backed that up his entire career, doing that year after year. I give him a lot of credit for that.”

At running back, if Jamaal Williams remains out, rookie Dexter Williams likely will be active on game day for the first time. At receiver, it’s wide open for opportunities after Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison, who would move up in the pecking order in Adams’ absence.

Jake Kumerow has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury but is back at practice this week. Allen Lazard and rookie Darrius Shepherd both saw the field at crunch time last week against the Eagles.

“We’re all hungry. We’re all looking to make plays. We all feed off each other’s energy, too. If one guy makes a play the other guys get excited for him,” said Kumerow, who has the most extensive rapport of the three with Rodgers, such as it is, dating back to last year.

“One of the things I’ve been trying to do since I got here is get on the same page with him, and to do that, you have to pay attention to detail and do it right in practice for you to get the opportunity in the game.”

The Packers are hitting the road for the first time since Week 1, but their offense is in much better shape than it was for the opener. Numerous missed chances led to just 27 points against the Eagles, but consistently productive drives and Rodgers’ 422 passing yards were significant improvements over the season’s first three games.

Green Bay’s defense was the star of the opening three victories and the offense was in position to reclaim the spotlight last Thursday but came up just short. The unit improved on third downs but took a step back in red-zone and goal-to-go situations, areas that require constant focus no matter who’s in the lineup.

Rodgers emphasized getting key playmakers involved in the game early, as the Packers did last week with Adams and tight end Jimmy Graham. For this week, that could mean running back Aaron Jones and some combination of Graham, Valdes-Scantling and Allison in the passing game.

However it shakes out, the priority is not to regress on offense after taking the first month of the season to find a productive rhythm.

“We’d like to be scoring 30 a game,” Rodgers said. “That’s the goal with this offense is to be explosive and put points up and take pressure off the defense. Last week we needed to outscore them, and we didn’t get the job done.

“A loss is definitely a loss, but the most important thing is seeing growth, and I thought we showed some of that last Thursday. We moved the ball efficiently, but again, we’re going to be our biggest critics. Myself and our offense have got to play better in the red zone and be able to put good teams away when you get down there. You’ve got to get touchdowns.”

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