INDIANAPOLIS – Based on his body language, the number of times he held the ball too long and his willingness to throw it of bounds, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers looked like a guy tired of playing in the same offense last season.
It was obvious to just about anybody who watched the Packers, both before and after coach Mike McCarthy got fired.
With the hiring of new coach Matt LaFleur, Rodgers has a new offense, one that started sprouting up outside its California base — where Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay popularized it this past season — and made it all the way to Green Bay.
The Packers quarterback is now under center in the most cutting-edge offensive scheme in the NFL.
That might seem liberating to Rodgers, but it means things are going to be different. The new scheme has some similarities to McCarthy’s, but LaFleur said Wednesday during a luncheon meeting with a group of Packers beat writers at the NFL scouting combine that change is on the horizon.
“One of the messages that I’ll have for our players is, ‘Guys, in order to grow, you have to get comfortable with the uncomfortable,’” LaFleur said. “There’s going to be some stuff that we ask you to do that’s not going to be comfortable right off the bat.’
“We’ve got to attack it with an open mind and try it. I think that goes for coaches, players, everything.”
If there was anything worrisome about LaFleur’s approach as the discussion turned to Rodgers, it was that he considers his relationship with the 35-year-old as a partnership. He doesn’t want Rodgers to think of it as LaFleur’s offense but rather as “their” offense.
Maybe it will be “their” offense a year or two from now, but it really is LaFleur’s offense and that should be made clear to everyone in Year One. Rodgers should feel as uncomfortable as anyone on the team.
LaFleur, for all intents and purposes, was hired to get Rodgers back to playing like the guy who completed better than 65 percent of his passes, not 62.3 percent; threw for 35-40 touchdowns, not 25; and had a 105-plus passer rating, not 97.6.
It’s not unlike when former general manager Ted Thompson hired McCarthy. Brett Favre was coming off one of his worst seasons and McCarthy installed his version of the West Coast offense and got Favre to a place where all he had to worry about was hitting the open receiver.
For LaFleur to make Rodgers great again, he must make it clear the quarterback will be doing things his way, the way he, McVay and San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan developed the scheme during their formative years together in Washington. And he must get Rodgers to submit outwardly so that every player on the roster thinks to himself, if the best player on the team is doing it that way, I should be doing it, too.
Rodgers simply must buy into things he doesn’t necessarily support.
"When you’re dealing with these older guys, there’s going to be things that they’ve had a lot of success with that they feel really comfortable with,” LaFleur said. “And there’s going to be some things where they’ve got what we call scars. Maybe they’ve tried this play or certain play and it hasn’t worked out.
“It’s just like when you go to a restaurant and you order something and you get food poisoning. Are you going to order that same thing again? Probably not. We’ve just got to work it in as best we can and try to reframe how they see it.”
Among the things that will probably be different for Rodgers — besides terminology, footwork and protection — is the freedom he’ll have to change plays at the line of scrimmage. Over time, McCarthy gave Rodgers a wide breadth to place the offense in the best play possible based on the defense’s pre-snap alignment.
McCarthy even developed a no-huddle offense that could be used any time during the game and allowed Rodgers to call his own plays.
LaFleur’s offense doesn’t work that way.
“We traditionally haven’t had a whole lot of audibles, per se, in our offense,” LaFleur said. “Not to say that that’s going to be the way we’re going forward because, again, we’re going to build it our way. We try to give the quarterback as many tools as possible. There’s going to be a lot of play calls where there’s two plays called.”
The way LaFleur explained it, Rodgers will be able to change the play called from the sideline to another play based on the game plan. It doesn’t sound like he’ll be able to tell receivers to run their routes differently or dial up an audible that hasn’t been run in a couple of years.
If you think Rodgers isn’t going to have trouble giving up some of that control, then think again.
LaFleur’s job first is to break down Rodgers’ mechanics and see if there are some things he can do to help him regain his accuracy. Then it’s to tailor the offense around Rodgers and his teammates’ skills. Then it’s to get everyone playing on the same page.
Knowing exactly what Rodgers was thinking last year when he seemed to give up on McCarthy’s play calls and be more interested in keeping his streak of passes with no interceptions going would certainly be something LaFleur would have every right to address.
It probably would give him an insight into how things went sour between Rodgers and McCarthy and help establish some ground rules on what LaFleur is going to need from his quarterback during the upcoming transition.
LaFleur, however, doesn’t seem interested in that.
“I’m not going to delve too much into what happened in the past,” he said. “He’s had a hell of a career up to this point. For me, it’s just about what can we do moving forward.
“I know this: When I talk to him, the guy wants to win. I think he’s at the point of his career where he’s starting to think about his legacy and what he’s going to leave. The only way you can do that is you better win a world championship. That’s the goal.”
For LaFleur, it’s going to mean doing things his way. He was hired to win for the long term and he won’t be able to do it unless takes control of the offense and makes it his own.