Rodgers' Time Has Truly Arrived

Aaron Rodgers has been the Packers’ No. 1 quarterback before. During mini-camps and OTAs, of course. As Rodgers said on Wednesday following the second OTA workout in the Don Hutson Center, "The last couple years I was No. 1 until Brett got here." - More | Notebook: Attendance Strong At Start Locker Room Video | Audio | Photos

Aaron Rodgers has been the Packers' No. 1 quarterback before. During mini-camps and OTAs, of course.

Over the past couple of offseasons, Brett Favre wasn't always around to run the first-string offense, and Rodgers got all his work with the top unit. As Rodgers said on Wednesday following the second OTA workout in the Don Hutson Center, "The last couple years I was No. 1 until Brett got here."

It was valuable practice experience for the young quarterback, but it was about accelerating the former first-round draft pick's learning curve. Now, with Favre retired and the offensive reins handed to Rodgers on a permanent basis, running the No. 1 offense is about improving as a player but also preparing to play the upcoming season.

"It feels great," Rodgers said during an extensive question-and-answer session in front of his locker. "I've taken the No. 1 reps in practice throughout the last three years, but to know that I'm the guy going into the season is pretty exciting, because guys are starting to rally around my leadership style and the way I do things.

"Like I said, I've been waiting for this experience, this opportunity, my whole life, so it's pretty exciting."

Don't mistake Rodgers' words for some sort of naïve, wide-eyed, dream-come-true mantra, though. He's as aware as anyone of the circumstances surrounding his first season as an NFL starter - that he's following a legend, that he'll always be compared to Favre, that the public weight is on his shoulders to prevent the 2007 NFC runners-up from slipping without Favre.

Rodgers acknowledged Wednesday that he feels a lot of people outside the Packers' locker room expect him, or want him, to fail. But, as hard as it was to wait three years for this chance, he feels he's better prepared for the challenge now than he would have been had it arrived sooner.

Rodgers recalled speaking with Mike Shanahan a couple of years ago at a celebrity golf tournament, and the Broncos head coach advised him to be patient.

"He said it really takes three years for a quarterback to understand the West Coast offense, and at the time I was like, 'Yeah, yeah, OK, I gotcha,' but I think he's definitely right," Rodgers said. "It really took into my third year for things to really start to slow down for me, like they say, and for the game to just come a little bit more natural, I think.

"Going into my fourth season, my third offseason being here 95 percent of the time, I think it's really going to help going into the season, the way I understand the offense, being able to teach the younger guys. Because we are a young team, and being able to be like a second coach on the field is going to be very important to this offense."

Rodgers spent the past eight weeks going through his third offseason "quarterback school," special sessions designed by Head Coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback coach Tom Clements during which the quarterbacks work on fundamentals, watch film, and try to learn every last detail of the offense.

That work, and the repetition involved the past two offseasons, is what has to carry over to the full-squad practices and then, of course, the games.

"Aaron doesn't have a lot of playing experience but he has a lot of experience in this offense," Clements said. "He knows it every well. He knows what his responsibilities are, he knows the adjustments he has to make, and he's very up to speed on all of that."

Rodgers also plans to use that knowledge to help, to the extent they want him to, the two rookie draft picks at quarterback - Louisville's Brian Brohm and LSU's Matt Flynn. Brohm said he's already seen Rodgers' willingness to help and their relationship is off to a good start.

That wasn't necessarily the case with Favre and Rodgers when Rodgers first arrived in 2005, though their relationship grew to be very strong last season. Rodgers chalks up the initial discomfort in some respects to the difference in age - Rodgers was just 21 and Favre 36 back in 2005 - whereas now he's only a year or two older than Brohm and Flynn.

"These guys are both very bright," Rodgers said. "They've had good college careers, and I'm just going to be open to them. It's a misconception to think that I need to be standoffish with them or not help them out, because helping those guys out is going to make us a better football team. Any questions they've got, I'm going to be there for them if they need me."

That kind of leadership is important to show, not only with the young quarterbacks but with the offense and the team as a whole. Ultimately, Rodgers knows he'll be judged by wins and losses, but until the real games roll around, part of his evaluation rests on the type of team leader he is, and how other players respond to him.

{sportsad300}One example of that came during Wednesday's practice, when during a team (11-on-11) period, Rodgers rolled to his right and tried to thread a hard throw through a tight window to receiver James Jones.

Safety Nick Collins reached in front of the receiver to knock the ball away at the last second, and Rodgers immediately called out to Collins, "Great play, Nick." Collins responded by acknowledging the difficult throw, and the two teammates slapped five as they headed back to their respective huddles.

"It's exciting knowing my leadership role has increased," Rodgers said. "The last few years I've really taken the leadership role on the scout team, encouraging those guys and doing what I can as a backup quarterback. But now being the guy and having a little more 'oomph' behind my words, it's a good feeling."

The words are only part of the leadership equation, though.

"They're going to follow a consistent quarterback," Rodgers said. "A guy who is consistent on the field as a leader, and is consistent with his play as well. I'm just trying to be consistent every play and every rep I get."

Those reps are some of the same ones he's had before, just under different circumstances.

"I've been setting myself up mentally for this for a while," Rodgers said. "It's exciting, it really is, to know that I'm going to get first shot, that I'm the guy, and really my own destiny is in my hands. If I play well, everything is going to take care of itself."

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