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Game notes: Amari Rodgers sparks Packers' special teams

Romeo Doubs finds the end zone; Danny Etling capitalizes on second-half opportunity

WR Amari Rodgers
WR Amari Rodgers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Amari Rodgers came into the 2022 season wanting to help spark the resurgence of the Packers' special teams.

Consider Friday night's preseason opener against the San Francisco to be a step in the right direction.

The second-year receiver/returner busted a 50-yard kickoff return in the first quarter against the 49ers, giving the unit a jolt in its maiden voyage under new Packers special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia.

"It felt great, just to obviously put that out there for our special teams," Rodgers said. "We struggled last year. To put that out there to show the progress that we made felt great.

"You just gotta play fast and react to what comes. That's really what I did, and I made a play."

Rodgers said the play call was a middle return but he popped it outside after seeing a crease develop on the right. San Francisco kicker Robbie Gould wound up having to make the stop, bumping Rodgers out of bounds.

The Packers' sideline came alive by the play. So much so inactive linebacker Rashan Gary ran into Rodgers in excitement, dropping the 5-foot-9 receiver to the ground.

"That was a great moment," said Head Coach Matt LaFleur. "Certainly, (Rodgers) set up the return. It was well blocked. I think the hardest hit came when he got to the sideline and Rashan Gary knocked him on his butt."

It was a big moment for Rodgers, who's competing with speedy cornerback Rico Gafford for kickoff-return duties and rookie fourth-round pick Romeo Doubs for punt returns.

Rodgers averaged 18.1 yards per kickoff return last season with a long of 27 on 11 attempts. Green Bay's longest kickoff return in 2021 belonged to Kylin Hill, a 41-yarder vs. Detroit last September.

Rodgers made a series of changes this offseason to better prepare the former third-round pick for life in the NFL, highlighted by his dropping to 202 pounds to improve his explosiveness and cardio.

By and large, Friday was a good showing for the Packers' special teams. While rookie kicker Gabe Brkic missed a 32-yard field goal, Pat O'Donnell averaged 40.5 net yards on his two punts and the 49ers averaged just 17.3 yards on four kickoff returns.

Rodgers' impact went beyond just special teams, too. He caught a pass in the flat from third-string quarterback Danny Etling in the fourth quarter and took it to the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown that gave Green Bay a 21-10 lead with 12:53 left.

"I just had a flat route and the nickel blitzed off me, so I knew I had a chance of getting the ball," Rodgers said. "I saw that and I got my eyes around quick and made the first man miss. The second had a good angle on me. I was thinking about cutting back but I saw his angle so I gave him a little hesitation to see if I could stop his speed and it worked. I just reached out for the pylon."

See scenes from the Friday night matchup between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Aug. 12, 2022.

Doubs' day: Doubs built on a strong start to his first NFL training camp by becoming the first Packers player to find the end zone this preseason.

The rookie fourth-round pick breezed past 49ers defensive back Tarvarius Moore and gave quarterback Jordan Love ample room to find him for a 33-yard touchdown.

"It was a pretty big moment," Doubs said. "I figured it was man coverage from his looking around the field and I was able to have a pretty big opportunity and it came true."

Doubs finished with three catches for 45 yards, while also forcing an illegal contact penalty in the second quarter that gave Green Bay a first down.

Unfortunately, there was an awkward sequence where Doubs appeared to catch a pass from Love on an out route before the ball came dislodged and into the arms of cornerback Sam Womack. Upon review, the referees ruled it an interception.

"I thought I came down with the ball but unfortunately, I did not," Doubs said. "It just comes with learning from what happened today and be a better person the next day."

Etling seizes the moment: Playing behind Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love, Etling hasn't had a ton of opportunities for extended playing time this summer.

But given a full second half with which to work, the 28-year-old quarterback made every snap count en route in completing 6-of-8 passes for 123 yards, including the 22-yard TD to Rodgers.

He jumped out with a big completion off a wheel route to running back BJ Baylor, who picked up 68 yards on the play down to the 49ers' 11-yard line.

"Getting out there and actually moving the chains and making a play there, that was great for all of us to get things going," Etling said. "You're trying to get in rhythm but the defense pressures and you're able to beat it with a great route, great catch by B.J., and we went off to the races from there."

After giving Green Bay a brief lead with the TD pass to Rodgers, Etling looked to lead another scoring drive in the fourth quarter before being stopped on a fourth-and-1 sneak.

Etling, who bested Kurt Benkert for the No. 3 job earlier this spring, has been working to make an NFL roster for the past four years. Through that process, he's learned how to maximize every snap he takes.

While it remains to be seen whether Aaron Rodgers will play this preseason, Etling plans to take the same approach into next Friday's home game against New Orleans. If he plays, Etling hopes to build on the positive things he did in Santa Clara.

"I've always prepared as if I had to take every single rep. That's why I always stay after practice," Etling said. "Throughout my career, I've been able to take things that these greats in front of me have done during practice or taught me more directly and been able to apply those after practice and try to do my best to let those into my game without a lot of reps."

Ground production: The Packers finished with 141 rushing yards on 34 carries, with Baylor and rookie running back Tyler Goodson also combining for four catches for 99 yards.

Third-year veteran Dexter Williams, who re-signed with the Packers last week, also broke a game-long 25-yard run in the fourth quarter.

Baylor credited the production to an offensive line that also garnered praise from LaFleur. The Packers opened with Yosh Nijman, Jon Runyan, Josh Myers, Jake Hanson and Royce Newman as their starting five before Caleb Jones, Cole Van Lanen, Hanson, Sean Rhyan and Zach Tom took over.

"Offensive line did their job today," Baylor said. "They were making holes. They were pushing people into gaps. They did a really good job of being in pass protection and giving Danny enough time to throw the ball to me."

Davis does it all: Former Wisconsin receiver Danny Davis went to great lengths not to beat his chest after catching his first NFL touchdown just before halftime.

But even the humble rookie had to crack a smile when reflecting on the 33-yard score from Love that gave Green Bay some momentum going into halftime.

"I try not to get too high or too low," said Davis, who finished with two catches for 45 yards. "I understand I gotta continue to stack days like this and continue to be the player I want to be. Of course, I'm grateful and it's a blessing to be able to do that. I'm ready to keep going and build from it."

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