Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is all smiles during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field on Sunday, July 31, 2011. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
When Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers speaks, people in high places apparently listen.
Rodgers stood in front of his locker early Sunday afternoon and made a pitch for the Packers to keep unrestricted free agents James Jones and John Kuhn.
“It’s not my decision, but I’m definitely pulling for those guys,” said Rodgers. “Bring them back.”
Roughly two hours later, Jones and Kuhn had agreed to new contracts.
It’s a safe bet Rodgers knew the two players were returning when he made his public remarks, and it’s unlikely Packers General Manager Ted Thompson consults his quarterback before making roster decisions.
But any lobbying Rodgers might have done behind closed doors wouldn’t have hurt the contract causes of Jones and Kuhn. Rodgers wants as many weapons at his disposal as possible this season as the Packers attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champions. If the price made sense, why wouldn’t Thompson comply?
Rodgers already has holdover starting receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver in his arsenal as well as Super Bowl star Jordy Nelson. Throw in the return of injured players Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant, as well as rookies Randall Cobb and Alex Green, and the Packers appear to have an embarrassment of riches on offense.
Adding Jones to the receiving corps and Kuhn to his fullback role will only make the Packers more dangerous, and Rodgers knows it.
Can there be any doubt the NFC rival Philadelphia Eagles have been loading up on free-agent defensive talent in an effort to keep up with the Packers’ explosive offense?
“We’re viewed differently now because we have won that championship,” Rodgers said.
In other words, the bull’s-eye is on their backs, and Rodgers appears to be ready for the challenge.
“We realize it’s going to be important for us to do things better than we did last year,” he said. “We were 10-6. We can start faster. We can hopefully get things gelling a little quicker than we did last year.”
Rodgers is in the prime of his career and is recognized as one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. But he said he doesn’t much care for the bright lights and trappings of success that followed him this offseason after his Super Bowl MVP performance.
“I just like being one of the guys,” Rodgers said. “I enjoy my private life, and keeping a separation between my personal life and my public life. Those lines get a little gray once you have some success on the field. I enjoy the opportunities, I really do, those are fun, and the platform I’ve been given because of the success our team has had. But I’m a homebody. I enjoy my private life.”
Besides getting recognized more often when he’s in public, life hasn’t changed much for Rodgers since the Packers’ Super Bowl victory.
He has stayed in top-top physical shape and added a better diet to his regimen. “Other than that, business as usual,” he said.
On the field and in the locker room, Rodgers has assumed more of a leadership role.
“He has more credibility because of the way he has performed,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
It’s a responsibility Rodgers doesn’t take lightly.
“I’m fortunate enough to be one of the leaders of this football team and a guy who’s looked at for direction and how I see things,” Rodgers said. “It’s a greater opportunity to kind of put my stamp on this team and this locker room.”
It also might be a little sobering that Rodgers, 27, is one of the older veterans on the team. Only 10 players on the Packers’ 86-man training camp roster are 28 or older.
“I feel like one of the older guys in here and I’m only 27,” he said. “You look at these young guys coming in, 21, 22, 23, you remember your mindset at that point. It’s interesting to see how much changes.”
What won’t change is Rodgers’ perfectionist tendencies, his will to win and desire to face head-on the next obstacle in his path.
“It’s a new season, that’s how I look at it,” he said. “New opportunities, new challenges. Every year is different. It’s different guys, different dilemmas, different adversity you have to deal with.”
— mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.