Packers beat writers Ryan Wood and Jim Owczarski discuss the outlook for quarterback Aaron Rodgers being able to play Sunday. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY - Mike McCarthy ended his media obligations this week by agreeing with Aaron Rodgers’ assertion that he doesn’t need to practice in order to play Sunday against Minnesota. But that means DeShone Kizer took his most meaningful reps to date, working with the first-team offense and preparing like he will start — and at the very least to substitute more capably than he did against Chicago if need be.
“All reps are valuable, especially this time of year because you’re working against specifics as far as what the scheme of the offense is, obviously the threat and the stress points of what the defense applies to you,” McCarthy said. “So yeah, these are the best reps as far as in the practice environment for all of our players, especially quarterbacks.”
And in those reps, the Packers were tasked with drilling poor decision making out of the 22-year-old.
In 15 starts in Cleveland last year, Kizer threw a league-high 22 interceptions and lost six fumbles. And while it’s true that in 60 preseason passing attempts for the Packers he tossed just one interception, Kizer turned it over twice in the nine plays he didn’t hand the ball off in his first real action against Chicago.
Regardless of whether Rodgers plays Sunday, his ailing left knee isn’t going to improve so rapidly that the Packers can take their time with developing Kizer. McCarthy is confident he, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti, Jr. can do that — but he also issued a warning.
“If you don’t take care of the football, you’re not long for playing with the Green Bay Packers,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “That’s an absolute. I think every coach in the league would express that. It’s not to be taken in any negative way. It’s just the facts of the matter. I mean, you have to give your team a chance. Everybody understands the importance of turnover ratio and what it has to do with winning.”
Kizer admitted he has to be better at protecting the ball, but nothing in his NFL career to date has proven he is able to. Two league sources familiar with how his rookie year unfolded with the Browns said Kizer never grasped the concept of accepting an incompletion or understanding the broader consequences of his decision making.
For instance, on Sunday, Kizer conceded that he tried to make a great play when he attempted the screen pass under heavy duress that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. That mentality plagued him all of 2017 with the Browns.
So as Rodgers and the team manage his knee injury going forward, Kizer must build trust not just with the coaching staff, but with his teammates.
“The biggest emphasis now is proving to my teammates that when the ball is in my hands, they can trust that the ball is going to be out of harm's way,” Kizer acknowledged.
And he believed his work during practice week offers a step forward in that regard.
“You get to show your teammates what type of guy you are, what type of leader you are,” Kizer said. “There’s a bunch of guys in this room who have never really seen me lead. On Sunday, it was the first time I really had a true opportunity to go out there in a game situation with the real bullets flying and show who I am. Now, this week’s practice will be to show guys how I prepare and the mentality I carry, and how I can lead guys around me to hopefully prepare themselves as much as possible throughout the week.”
From his point of view, veteran wide receiver Randall Cobb felt the second-year quarterback had done the right things to build that foundation of trust within the offensive room.
“He’s had great command in the huddle,” Cobb said. “I think he had a great halftime speech right before we went out for the second half, but, obviously Aaron came back and played. We’ll see what happens, but I definitely have a lot of confidence in him.”
Kizer knows that’s something he has to continue to work on, even if Rodgers does run out of the tunnel Sunday afternoon against the Vikings.
“It’ll be nice to see him go out there and command the team again,” Kizer said of Rodgers. “But as far as my position, it’s about doing whatever I can to prepare as best as I can and take the reps I do get and try to prove to my teammates who I am. Once again, an emphasis on creating positive plays and getting out of harm's way.”