Packers making the best of unconventional offseason

Aaron Rodgers keeping his arm in shape, enjoying virtual program

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QB Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY – Most years, Aaron Rodgers and the other 89 players on the Packers' roster would be back on the field this week for the first public practice of organized team activities.

But this isn't most years.

Instead, the two-time MVP quarterback is reconnecting with returning teammates and coaches, and getting to know the new additions to Green Bay's locker room, through Zoom meetings due to league-wide COVID-19 restrictions.

Rodgers has crafted and honed his offseason preparation over the course of his 15-year NFL career, whether it's his personal training routine in California or teambuilding with a handful of teammates at the Kentucky Derby each May.

The pandemic has erased most of that and forced Rodgers to make his own modifications in response to the pandemic. While he has the necessary equipment to train on his own, Rodgers had to get creative when it came time to ramp up his throwing in early May.

Without naming names, Rodgers said he found some pros around the Los Angeles area to throw to "a couple times a week" to keep his arm in shape.

"The biggest change has been, you know, feeling like a kid throwing the football at the park," said Rodgers during a conference call with Green Bay media Friday.

"You have to find different places to get some of these workouts in … to get our running in, our agility in with our group, and then finding places to throw the ball. We've got a couple good places now to throw it."

For the past three weeks, Rodgers has been part of the virtual offseason program the Packers' coaching staff has been conducting with players. It's enabled the strength-and-conditioning staff to touch base with the roster, while position coaches have addressed their players in individual meetings.

Head Coach Matt LaFleur marshaled in the offseason program with a Zoom meeting with close to 100 attendees last month. On other occasions, coaches have been pre-recording presentations on players' iPads to lay out the team's vision and expectations for the 2020 season.

LaFleur said the team has run part of the virtual program through its technical support staff and director of technology Mike Halbach, but also outsourced a portion through a contact of offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett's.

On top of the usual X's and O's, the Packers' coaches have integrated their own personal comedic touch to the meetings. Rodgers specifically credited the ingenuity (and humor) of Hackett, offensive line coach Adam Stenavich and running backs coach Ben Sirmans during their presentations.

"Our coaches have done an unbelievable job of being creative, because the majority of our installs and whatnot have been more of those voice-over type installs and you want to keep the guys entertained," LaFleur said. "You spend a lot of time, you make these videos and they take a lot longer than they would normally."

The coaches have proceeded at a slower pace with virtual instructions and installs than they normally do with in-person individual player workouts and OTAs, but Rodgers feels that's been beneficial since there's been more emphasis on the details.

The time and effort LaFleur and the coaches have invested in reviewing the 2019 season have been apparent in one-on-one meetings Rodgers has had with the Packers' second-year head coach, Hackett and quarterbacks coach/passing-game coordinator Luke Getsy.

Two of the main areas the Packers have been working on this offseason are incorporating more no-huddle into the offense and streamlining tempo. Rodgers doesn't anticipate shedding the wristband given the nature of the offensive verbiage, but he and the coaches have been cleaning things up over the past month.

"This has been a great opportunity to … go through everything last year that was good, what didn't work, what we want to add to it, what we want to take out," Rodgers said. "I think Matt and Nathaniel have done a really good job of going through those and keeping me in the loop about conversations. We've had a number of conversations about these installs and I feel really good about where they're at."

The absence of a traditional offseason program isn't completely foreign to Rodgers, who went through that once before during 2011 lockout following the Packers' Super Bowl XLV victory.

Although the current landscape undoubtedly makes life a bit more difficult on everyone, Rodgers sees the silver lining. Like 2011, he expects guys to be healthy and in great condition whenever players can report back to Green Bay.

Furthermore, this should be a good litmus test to gauge the dedication of young players on the roster, who still will be expected to make strides in spite of the current environment.

"I think it's probably making the coaches better coaches and at the same time, you expect great accountability where guys now have the opportunity," Rodgers said. "What are you doing during your off time? We all have a lot more off time now because we don't have the schedule constraints that we would in a normal-life situation. Guys have more time to study, more time to work on themselves."

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