GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers isn’t striving simply for a smooth transition to a new offense under new Head Coach Matt LaFleur.
He’s also planning on a short one.
“There isn't a grace period,” Rodgers said on Wednesday in his first meeting with the fully assembled Green Bay media since late December. “This isn't like other transitions where you maybe give a pass for the first year or two as you get acclimated to the system.”
There were multiple motivations behind that message from the two-time MVP quarterback as the Packers’ began their offseason workouts this week.
First, he has no problem placing high expectations on himself as he returns from a season-long knee injury, which he revealed earlier this week in a radio interview was more significant (it included a bone fracture) than previously discussed.
For all the outside criticism thrown his way through last week’s Bleacher Report story and its fallout, Rodgers is moving on, welcoming the challenges that await with all the change in Green Bay for 2019.
“I stand by everything I said,” he reiterated with regard to his reaction to the story, which included dismissing it as a “smear attack,” referring to the on-the-record sources as “bitter and irrelevant” former players, and denying President/CEO Mark Murphy ever told him not to be a “problem” for LaFleur.
Second, and perhaps more important, the no-grace-period message was for his current teammates. He’s pushing them to possess the same level of urgency he does, rather than think they can take a redshirt year of sorts with low expectations under a first-year head coach.
“We have a veteran quarterback, veteran offensive linemen, we signed some big free agents for us, especially three on defense,” Rodgers said. “There's an expectation living and playing here that you're going to compete for championships, and I think we all expect to do that.”
Rodgers’ health will play a big factor in that pursuit, as a broken collarbone in 2017 and his Week 1 knee injury last year contributed (to different degrees) to the Packers missing the playoffs each of the last two years. Through consultation with team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie, Rodgers opted not to have surgery in the offseason and says his knee feels good.
His mind is more on who’s going to replace veteran receiver Randall Cobb in the slot – he mentioned top target Davante Adams as an option, but also emphasized the opportunity that exists for someone else to seize a prominent role in the offense – and how “lean” running back Aaron Jones looks as he embarks on his third season as potentially a major piece in LaFleur’s scheme.
“Everything comes off of a positive run game,” Rodgers said. “We’re going to have to run the ball.”
The whole picture offensively as Rodgers described it is going to matter more than any personal emotions he and his teammates feel right now in the aftermath of the past week’s media scrutiny of the team and the locker room. Those certainly exist, as Adams confessed when he spoke with reporters on Wednesday, but diligence and communication through the transition will carry the Packers much further than emotion come September.
Rodgers and Adams both said LaFleur is keeping some elements in the offense the two have succeeded with in the past, and they appreciate the input. In turn, he’ll be looking for their buy-in and leadership with everything else needed to get the Packers ready to hit the ground running in September, new head coach and system or not.
“He’s an energetic guy, he’s really intelligent, he’s a good communicator, he’s creative,” Rodgers said of his first impression of LaFleur, much of which he heard in advance from Atlanta QB Matt Ryan, who worked under LaFleur in winning the 2016 league MVP. “It’s exciting right now because it’s different. I’ve been in the same system for 14 years and knew that inside and out, and now I have a new challenge learning this system and becoming an expert in it and trying to find ways to make it work with the guys we’ve got.
“When things change, it kind of jogs the system a little bit. It’s exciting, though, to see the energy. There should be a lot of excitement with our fan base. There is definitely in the locker room. It’s been a good start to the change.”