GREEN BAY – After Sunday’s win in Dallas, Aaron Rodgers told the story first.
On Tuesday, Lucas Patrick described its full effect.
Back in training camp, Patrick was a bit down. Whether he wasn’t quite finding his footing in the Packers’ new offense or adjusting well to more extensive duties at center, the former undrafted tryout hopeful was not in a good place with roster decisions looming.
It wasn’t the first time Patrick felt the pressure of the roster bubble. The Duke offensive lineman was cut as a rookie in 2016 and spent that year on the practice squad. He then made the team as a reserve guard the next two seasons. But with new coaches and a new scheme, feeling as though he wasn’t making the right impression was unsettling to say the least.
Then after one random camp practice, Rodgers sat down with Patrick in the team cafeteria during lunch and, in short, reminded him he had proven he could play in this league. The 26-year-old had started six games as a backup guard over the 2017-18 seasons and held his own. He just had to get back to being the smart, focused guy who had found a way against a lot of odds to stick around for three years.
“Everyone likes to think you’re always the belle of the ball, you’re always having a great day, but I didn’t feel like I was having the best OTAs or camp,” Patrick said. “I didn’t think it was up to my standards, let alone up to the Packers’ standard or necessarily Aaron’s. Wasn’t even remotely there.
“He took time out of his day to talk to me and encourage me that it’s not just one day that turns you into a bad player and it’s not just one day that turns you into a great player. It’s stacking a few days on top and the mentality of approaching it with hard work and determination.”
It may not sound like much, but it meant everything to Patrick. Always one of the first guys to defend a teammate in a scrum and put his toughness to good use for the team, Patrick got the reset he needed for himself.
The boost of confidence was immediate, he finished the preseason strong, and he made the team again amidst one of the more intense competitions on the offensive line in recent years – one that ended with a best friend, fellow undrafted linemate Justin McCray, getting traded to Cleveland.
That was a difficult personal pill to swallow, because Patrick knew how much Rodgers had supported and appreciated McCray over the last few years as well. But the business of the NFL aside, Patrick was ready to attack another season, in part thanks to Rodgers.
“Any guy in this locker room, if you feel like ‘12’ has your back, it’s like the whole state of Wisconsin has your back,” Patrick said. “Everyone knows he’s special. Everyone knows what he can do on the field. But I don’t think many people truly know what he does off the field to help guys like me.
“I think if you went around to a bunch of guys in the locker room who are just fighting to stick in this league, he’s probably talked to 99 percent of them and has expressed words of encouragement, keep sticking it out, or this is what you need to work on.”
All of that is the backdrop to Patrick’s performance Sunday in Dallas, when he was thrown into the fire for his first career regular-season action at center following veteran Corey Linsley’s concussion. Linsley had played more than 2,700 consecutive snaps dating back to December 2016, and for the first time since then, someone else had to snap the ball to Rodgers, communicate the line calls, and anchor the middle.
While Patrick was by no means perfect and he called it “a great game to learn from,” the offense didn’t skip a beat, and the Packers notched a big road win.
“I want to tell him he did a phenomenal job, but I think it might go to his big head,” said left tackle David Bakhtiari with his usual playful sarcasm. “He was able to settle in, get some good movement, do some good things for the offense and let us operate at full efficiency, which is exactly what you want.”
The effort prompted Rodgers to tell the summer lunch story to the media after the game, the sharing of which was quickly relayed to Patrick. He got a text from his fiancée about Rodgers’ comments, and his public support meant even more given two of his shotgun snaps in the game were significantly off-target. Both were fortunately caught alertly by running back Aaron Jones and turned into positive runs when they could have been huge plays the wrong way.
Those elicited Rodgers’ more pointed and abrupt in-game form of leadership – “Get the snap to me. It’s that simple,” Patrick recalled of their sideline briefing – that isn’t entirely understood when it’s seen by outside observers without the full context.
“That’s the kind of guy who, when he says something to me on the field with those bad snaps and he’s very firm, I respond better because of the relationship he’s cultivated,” Patrick said. “He brings the best out of everyone.”
That relationship began building in earnest in the 2017 preseason, when Patrick’s mom was visiting and the two were leaving the facility together in his mom’s early 2000s Ford Escape, not the typical vehicle seen in the players’ parking lot. Rodgers walked up, tapped on the window for her to roll it down, and introduced himself to Patrick’s mom, who had raised Patrick and his sister by herself.
“As a person, not ‘12’, not Aaron Rodgers, all this, as one of my teammates, he came up and talked to my mom,” Patrick said, still almost in disbelief to this day. “That’s literally the nicest thing he could have ever done.”
Which again will make Rodgers’ responses to any forthcoming mistakes more motivational to a still-young player with another potential big opportunity ahead, should the Packers need Patrick at center next Monday against Detroit as Linsley works his way through the concussion protocol. The players return to the practice field on Thursday to prepare.
Patrick knows he doesn’t have the in-game equity built up with Rodgers to replace the chemistry the quarterback has with Linsley, but he’s kept his eyes and ears open as much as possible so he can be in tune with all of Rodgers’ adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
“Those guys have thousands of snaps together where they’ve seen thousands of looks, and say one thing and it can trigger something in Corey’s brain,” Patrick said. “I probably annoy Corey, but I try to ask him as many questions as possible. Just to get even one percent on that page, I would think is pretty good. Those two are elite just with their football IQ and awareness.”
Patrick will work to make any progress he can in that direction knowing who’s behind him all the way, in his own way.
“I can’t speak enough of what type of teammate he is,” Patrick said of Rodgers. “The best part about playing for ‘12’ is accountability and his expectations. He sets them high and holds you to that.
“It’s not always peaches and cream. He’ll shoot you straight, but I appreciate that. He’s not afraid to do that and it makes this whole team so much better.”