Packers' Aaron Rodgers sees benefits in playing Thursday in home exhibition

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during Green Bay Packers Family Night  Saturday, August 4, 2018 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.,

GREEN BAY - It has been nearly 11 months since Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers played at Lambeau Field, and if he’s going to play at all before the real games begin, it would seem logical to reintroduce him to the place where he’ll play the majority of his football this season.

The Packers have one home exhibition game left, and all indications are that Rodgers will see his only snaps of the summer against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night at Lambeau Field.

“I think I’ll probably play this week,” Rodgers said after practice Monday. “I’d like to in front of our fans. Being that we have the first two at home it would be nice to get out there, back on Lambeau. Obviously, when I came back from my injury, I was on the road.

“So, I haven’t played at home for a long time.”

Rodgers’ last appearance at Lambeau came against this year’s opening-week opponent, the Chicago Bears, on Sept. 28. After breaking his right collarbone against Minnesota on Oct. 15, he played only one more game — at Carolina on Dec. 17.

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Rodgers has never gone an entire exhibition season without playing, and given all the changes in personnel, coaching and scheme this year, it probably would not be a good year to hold him out completely. There are two veteran tight ends and four young receivers who have not played a live down with him and this is probably their last chance before the regular season starts.

“I’d like to get some snaps on the field because the new guys need to see the rhythm and the tempo and also understand that when I’m out there, everything is up,” Rodgers said of calls he might make. “Everything that’s ever been put in, and then years of backlog stuff, is potentially (in play) as well.

“Obviously, you probably only use that for maybe Davante (Adams) and maybe Randall (Cobb), but it’s all up, so you have to be ready.”

Rodgers said he constantly challenges the offense with certain audibles at the line of scrimmage during practice and walk-throughs just to keep his receivers and tight ends sharp. In games, he has called plays in the huddle from previous years that the Packers hadn’t practiced, which gives him a catalog of plays with which he can surprise a defense.

At this point, however, the offense is searching for rhythm and chemistry and isn’t looking to fool anyone.

“You’re always working on things, whether it’s practice or a preseason game,” Rodgers said. “It’s just trying to get the timing down with the guys, and the speed is obviously a little faster at times in practice — not always.

“The scheme is not always extremely difficult, so it’s more about making sure you’re seeing things the right way. It’s not a ton of preparation in the same way it would be for a regular-season game, but I think there’s still things to be gained even for a veteran player in the preseason.”

Coach Mike McCarthy’s decision to play Rodgers will probably be solidified once he knows for sure that left tackle David Bakhtiari is going to play. Bakhtiari took snaps with the No. 1 offense Monday for the first time since injuring his ankle in the night practice Aug. 4.

There’s also a chance that right tackle Bryan Bulaga will play after taking snaps with the No. 1 offense Monday as well. However, he’s being brought back slowly from the ACL tear he suffered last year and the medical staff might choose to play it safe for another week.

Having his starting tackles available would make McCarthy feel a lot better about exposing Rodgers to live tackling.

Over the last two seasons, Rodgers’ exhibition game workload has dropped dramatically.

Last year, he played three series: one at Washington in Week 2 and two in Denver in Week 3. In 2016, he played two series, both at San Francisco in Week 4 of a five-game schedule. In ’15, he played three series at New England in Week 1, and two series at Pittsburgh in Week 2.

He indicated that this year it’s unlikely he’ll play in Week 3 or 4.

So, this is the chance for the offense to simulate a regular-season game week with Rodgers at the helm and see how well they can translate what they’ve been doing in practice into a game.

“Now it’s about preparing for practicing our game prep for opponents,” center Corey Linsley said. “We’re studying the Steelers now, (we’ll) study the Raiders next week and Chiefs — so when we go into Week 1, it’s not like, what are we doing?

“It’s like a rough draft, a work in progress. You’re watching film and doing this; you’re seeing what tendencies play out in the game. Even though we don’t see the Steelers in the regular season, you’re taking what you see on tape out on the field and making sure you’re prepared.”

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Incredibly, the Packers only have three training camp practices remaining, so they are not too far away from going into regular-season mode. There will be plenty of practice time for the opener against the Bears, but after this week the game work will come solely with the backup quarterbacks.

For players like tight ends Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, it’s their main opportunity to play in a game with Rodgers. For young receivers like Jake Kumerow, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore, it’s a chance to really feel how Rodgers moves around and creates opportunities.

The offense is still a work in progress because some of the personnel has not been decided, but it’s time to find out a little bit more about what it might look like in the regular season.

“Every day it’s about going out there and establishing our identity,” Lewis said. “Until we really get these games going and really start game-planning, we’re not necessarily really going to know what’s going on.

“Right now, (we’re) running a bunch of plays and seeing what we’re really good at.”

And for Rodgers, it’s a chance to play some real football, something he didn’t get to do for a good portion of last season. It should provide both him and McCarthy some insight on how well training camp has gone so far.

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