GREEN BAY - Aaron Rodgers walked onto the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium field a little more than three hours before Sunday’s scheduled kickoff, and the painted end zone felt like “plastic” under his feet.
He thought it was strange. The surface was unlike anything he ever had encountered on an NFL field. As Rodgers kept walking to the 25-yard line, where he did a pregame workout, he thought nothing more of it.
Not until midway through his workout did Rodgers realize a severe problem was unfolding. At midfield, groundskeepers worked feverishly to remove paint and excess rubber pellets. As Rodgers chatted with Colts quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Scott Tolzien, his backup in Green Bay for three seasons, he realized there might not be a game.
“My first step on the end zone paint,” Rodgers said, “I realized that’s a little odd. But then I went through my workout, and I realized something was going on at midfield. They had some issues with the way the paint had warmed up and kind of stuck together there like kind of a plastic consistency.
“They made the decision in the interest of player safety. The substance they were trying to get the paint off with, I can promise you, was not health-conscious at all. So I think they ultimately made the right decision.”
Rodgers didn’t blame anyone as he spoke with reporters in front of his locker before Tuesday evening’s practice. He attributed the game’s cancellation to an “unfortunate” mistake. Even if he wasn’t playing, Rodgers said, it was disappointing for fans, as well as younger players who missed valuable playing time.
For Rodgers, it merely maintained what was already scheduled to be an extended break. His first practice in six days came Tuesday. Before then, he had not participated on Ray Nitschke Field since Wednesday.
“It’s been a nice rest,” Rodgers said. “I didn’t ask for it, but I appreciate it. Mike (McCarthy) does a great job of taking care of us, and me especially. This, according to him, was planned to have a nice little rest for my legs and my arm. But I still had to do workouts.
“I think I was probably the only guy who worked out on Sunday because I was out there so early running around and doing some stuff with our strength staff.”
When Rodgers doesn’t practice, his absence changes everything for the Packers' starting offense. His teammates’ reps become less valuable because the offense is run at another level with Rodgers behind center. When backup quarterback Brett Hundley also missed practice Thursday, the difference with undrafted free agents Joe Callahan and Marquise Williams was especially noticeable.
But resting Rodgers is wise, especially in early August. No need to overexert a two-time MVP in installation practices, especially since Rodgers knows McCarthy’s playbook better than anyone. “Right now,” Rodgers said, he feels ready for the season to start.
So perhaps McCarthy’s biggest challenges in camp has been balancing Rodgers’ rest while maximizing his reps with the Packers starting offense.
“It’s important to stay in tune with what’s best for your offense,” McCarthy said, “and also balance that with what’s best for Aaron. We’re charting his reps, particularly his throwing. The five-day period of him being off was by design. So I feel good about where he is. He feels good.
“Really, the focus is more on Brett Hundley and our two young guys. That’s the target we need to hit as far as giving those three men the opportunity and amount of work. I’m more worried about them three than I am about Aaron Rodgers.”
Callahan had prepared himself like he was going to be the starter Sunday against the Colts all the way up to the realization that the field was not going to be playable.
“To be honest, I wasn’t overly nervous,” said Callahan, who threw for 12,878 yards and 130 touchdowns in four seasons at Wesley. “I definitely had my pregame nerves, but that would be a little weird if I didn’t.
“And then a lot of it was excitement. I was excited to get out there and play for the first time in about seven or eight months. It would have been neat to play in my first NFL game.”
The bright side is that Callahan and Williams got a lot of work during practice, particularly on Thursday when both Rodgers and Hundley sat out. It’s more reps then they’ll probably take in a day the rest of the summer.
The downer is that Callahan felt ready to play and was going to have a great opportunity to show someone he could play in the NFL. He was going to be able to lead a huddle with some starters and key backups in it.
“It would be a good chance to get an idea of what I look like against other opponents,” Callahan said. “But I have to keep making sure each day I improve at practice. That’s all I can do right now.”
McCarthy will continue focusing on the three, young quarterbacks Friday night when the Packers open their preseason against the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field. It’s unclear how much Rodgers will play against the Browns, though he’ll likely get at least one drive.
Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.