GREEN BAY – Amari Rodgers reported back to Green Bay this spring a little leaner, a little stronger and significantly more confident after a rookie NFL season he likened to being a freshman again.
The 2021 campaign was an educational experience for the 22-year-old receiver, whom the Packers traded up in the third round to draft out of Clemson.
A national champion and 1,000-yard receiver for the Tigers, Rodgers had to reset once he got to the pros. He played 229 snaps between offense and special teams as a rookie, catching four passes for 45 yards while handling kickoff and punt returns.
Given his smaller in-game case load compared to college, Rodgers went out of his way to learn from the receivers around him and take mental notes of what he could do better in Year 2.
"Every time you're at that new level, you gotta start over," said Rodgers following Tuesday's minicamp practice. "I knew I had to learn, and I had to get up to beat with the offense and just being in the NFL.
"When I realized I probably wasn't going to be getting as many snaps as I wanted to, I just started learning from different people, taking different things, so that when the offseason came, I could come back now and be ready."
Rodgers' plan came with several bullet points, beginning with revisiting his nutrition. Rodgers hired a chef, trimmed down to around 210 pounds (he hopes to get down to 205 by training camp) and reduced his overall body fat by 4%.
The changes not only were intended to improve both Rodgers' cardio and explosiveness but also get him back to doing what he did best during a distinguished career at Clemson, in which the 5-foot-9 receiver caught 181 passes for 2,144 yards and 15 TDs.
There also were hurdles to overcome regarding Rodgers' confidence, which receivers coach/passing game coordinator Jason Vrable emphasized during the exit-interview process.
"If you were to see him right now, he already looks faster and stronger than he ever did," said Vrable last month. "He's in the best shape of his life. His mindset is, 'I'm going to be the No. 1 guy at all three positions.' He has that going for him. His route-running is already cleaner and crisper."
On special teams, Rodgers had a few muffed punts and fumbles that admittedly impacted his confidence throughout the course of the season.
To move forward, Rodgers looked at those plays critically and aimed to learn from the mistakes. Now, he's again competing to handle returns under new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia.
"If you mess up, you're going to lose confidence, naturally," Rodgers said. "I just feel like me being a rookie, taking it all in and everything coming with being with the Packers, I feel like I let it get to me. Now, I feel like I have a year in the system, a year in the league. I know what it takes. I know what it takes to get out there and be successful."
Having Randall Cobb in Green Bay has helped the maturation process. Rodgers has known the Pro Bowl wideout for more than decade, as Rodgers' father, Tee Martin, originally coached Cobb at the University of Kentucky.
Both Cobb and Vrable have taken notice of the subtle changes in both Rodgers' makeup and demeanor during the offseason program, with Cobb even saying in passing to Vrable: "You can feel it from him."
While Davante Adams was traded to Las Vegas in March, the receiver competition remains fierce in Green Bay with the addition of Sammy Watkins and three rookie draft picks in Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure.
With a firmer grasp of the playbook, Rodgers is looking to do something memorable each time he steps onto the practice field this offseason. More than anything, Rodgers feels more like himself again as he enters his second NFL season.
"I'm definitely Amari Rodgers now," he said with a laugh. "I was probably Amari Rodg last year or Amari Rodger."