Rodgers doesn't anticipate much offensive change
Aaron Rodgers sensed this change coming long before the Green Bay Packers' loss in the NFC championship game.
For the last few years, the two-time MVP quarterback had a hunch that head coach Mike McCarthy was contemplating handing off play-calling duties to focus on other aspects of the team. This offseason, he finally pulled the trigger.
With McCarthy taking on more of an overseer role, long-time assistant Tom Clements will be the one working closely with Rodgers on game days. Rodgers believes the timing is "natural," especially since he's been working with Clements since he came on board as quarterbacks coach.
In his first public comments since the change was announced, Rodgers believes it will be business as usual once the regular season begins.
"I think it's something he's been thinking about for a few years now," Rodgers said. "I'm not speaking for him, but I'm thinking that he's been wanting to get maybe a little closer to some of the other areas of the football team. When you're so dialed into play calling, having the ability to have eyes on what they're doing on the defensive side of the ball, on special teams, I think was important to him."
McCarthy has reiterated on multiple occasions this offseason that the impetus for the change was to give his assistant coaches more responsibility and not a reaction to the Packers' disheartening 28-22 overtime loss to Seattle four months ago when some communication on defense and special teams was questioned.
Clements' promotion from offensive coordinator to associate head coach opened the door for long-time position coach Edgar Bennett to take on greater responsibility. In turn, quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt has absorbed most of Bennett's former duties with the receiving corps.
The changes trickles down to Rodgers, too. Now 31, he's assumed more control of the offense in every year he's been a starter. The Packers' transition to a no-huddle offense has only expedited that progression with Rodgers often responsible for making checks at the line of scrimmage.
The formula seems to be working. The Packers led the NFL in scoring offense last season. Rodgers' autonomy at the line of scrimmage often affords Green Bay mismatches. It was no surprise he was among the league's best in drawing opposing defenders offside and generating free-play opportunities with 12-men on the field.
"I've always had a lot of freedom," Rodgers said. "It's just occasionally the personnel groupings restricts some of the checks you can make. But no, that's kind of a natural progression for a quarterback who's been in a system for a long time, if they can handle it to do more things. I have always liked a good starting point for a play, and then have the ability to get us in a better play if you can do it quickly and it's clean."
Van Pelt calls Rodgers "a coordinator on the field," who's able to call his own game if needed. There have even been stretches in the past where Rodgers has seized control in tight games. In those instances, his vast experience in McCarthy and Clements' offense paid dividends.
The only question now is how everything will play out on game days. Last season, Van Pelt worked with Rodgers on the sideline after Clements moved to the coaches' box in an effort to gain a big-picture perspective. It started as a trial basis, but Clements wound up staying there the entire season.
There's plenty of time to figure out the finer details. The Packers have confidence in their communication.
"It'll be a change obviously a little bit for him having a rhythm with Mike all the years calling the plays," Van Pelt said. "It'll be a little different there. Tom will be with him all the time. There will be a direct line of communication that's always open and ongoing there. It's the same group of guys who are together doing the same things that we've done. So I think the change will be seamless in that regard."
When he wasn't winning Celebrity Jeopardy, Rodgers spent his offseason rehabbing the calf strain he suffered down the stretch and preparing his body for his 11th NFL season (eighth as starter).
It was only recently that the calf fully healed. Although it looks a little different, Rodgers feels he's back to a place where he can "push it to the max." He didn't appear inhibited at all during Thursday's organized team activities at Clarke Hinkle Field, scrambling freely when needed.
Rodgers admits it takes a little more time to get into shape than it did when he was younger, but the adjustments the Packers have made to their program, including the hiring of nutrition specialist Adam Korzun, have helped.
Healthy eating, consistent sleeping habits and yoga also have played a significant role in that revitalization process. Back in Green Bay, it's Van Pelt's role to take care of the rest even if the coach's time is stressed a little more with his expanded responsibilities.
Van Pelt estimates "80-85 percent" of quarterback and receiver meetings can be handled simultaneously with offensive quality control coach Luke Getsy filling in the holes when Van Pelt can't be at two places at one time.
If needed, he has no problem carving out more time to aid Rodgers' preparation.
"That's the most important (thing) is getting him what he needs," Van Pelt said. "That's my mindset. That's our mindset. Obviously, quarterback is the most important position in this offense and always has been in this system. So he's going to get everything that he needs. If he doesn't, then we'll find more time to make it work and he knows that."
Despite all the moving pieces, Rodgers doesn't anticipate much change. The new structure gives McCarthy the flexibility to lend a hand on defense and special teams while an offense that returns all 11 preferred starters works on the foundation he's paved for the last nine years.
Coming off his second MVP campaign, Rodgers feels comfortable with the direction the offense is headed.
"Mike has always been about the team," Rodgers said. "And this is something he thinks is in the best interest of the offense and of the football team, and that's why he made the decision, and we'll just keep on moving forward and keep on trying to be a very dangerous offense."
—firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod