GREEN BAY – During the 13 years Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers played under coach Mike McCarthy, he developed a catalog of plays, audibles, protections and adjustments so deep there were times he could pull one out from several years before and run it to take an advantage of a defensive look.
It was like having a Rolodex every time he came to the line of scrimmage.
One day into training camp under new coach Matt LaFleur, Rodgers has a good feel for the new scheme he’s running, but when asked how many plays in LaFleur’s offense he could run seamlessly, he said it wasn’t near what he could before.
Rodgers said he is still working through different offensive concepts and trying to go deeper than just the mechanics of each play. There are still times he is asking LaFleur what he’s trying to accomplish.
“I think that’s an important question in any offense and there’s still some plays that maybe we haven’t taken a specific look at,” Rodgers said after the first training camp practice Thursday. “It helps if I say, ‘What are we doing this for, why are we doing this concept?’
“If he can show me 20 (video) clips on it, you’re, ‘Yeah, OK, makes sense. I like that.’”
Coaches treat the first week or so of training camp as a refresher course, installing the scheme in different parts such as red zone, short yardage, third down and goal line. Those installations were made during the offseason, but they are reinstalled at the start of camp so the plays can be run in pads against an offense or defense focused on running its own scheme.
Later in camp, LaFleur will start practicing plays against various defensive looks the Packers might see during the season. It is during these competitive sessions in practice and exhibition games that the players must apply what they have learned in the classroom and the offseason workouts to real football.
“For me, I’m a visual learner in that sense,” Rodgers said. “So, I can figure it out on paper and I’m fine with that, but I like to see it as well and it helps me lock it into my brain. So, the more questions I ask, the more film he shows, the better I feel about the concepts, the better he feels knowing I’m confident in what we’re doing.
“And that’s how the relationship grows.”
Because Rodgers has only one receiver who has the experience to make the transition to the new offense as quickly as him, there are going to be some bumps in the road. He can’t throw the ball to Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams on every play and to help Rodgers in that regard, LaFleur is spreading out the work so everyone gets a chance with the starting quarterback.
During a competitive red-zone period at the end of practice in which the offense and defense ran their own schemes, the defense dominated.
Rodgers and the No. 1s had four cracks at the end zone from the 10-yard line and beyond and scored once. Worse yet, Rodgers threw an interception right into the hands of linebacker Blake Martinez, whom he said he never saw dropping into coverage.
The No. 2s and 3s didn’t fare much better.
Quarterback Tim Boyle made the same mistake Rodgers did and threw an interception right into the hands of linebacker Kyler Fackrell.
In all, the offense scored on two of the nine plays and turned the ball over twice. It’s not something LaFleur needs to fret over, but it is an indication that the offense is a work in progress.
“I think once we get going on some of the no-huddle stuff, that to me has always been what cements the offense into your head because you start simplifying things even more in no-huddle,” Rodgers said. “So, I feel good about the offense. I feel good about the things we can do in it.
“But I think it’s just kind of in its infancy right now in training camp. I think it has a lot of room to grow and it’s going to be fun.”
Rodgers did address the topic of audibles. Under McCarthy, he had the freedom to check to several different plays if he didn’t think the one called would work against the defense the opposition was showing.
Under LaFleur’s system, he may only have two plays: the one called in the huddle and a single audible.
Rodgers created some waves in the offseason when he told NFL Media that he couldn’t turn off 11 years of reading defenses and changing plays at the line of scrimmage and so he expected he and LaFleur would work toward adding more options to the offense.
LaFleur has been diplomatic, saying he wants the offense to take advantage of the quarterback’s ability and would probably look different than in other places it is run because of Rodgers’ skill set. Still, it is a quick-hitting offense that has functioned well when the quarterback is not over-thinking things and getting rid of the ball on time.
Rodgers was jokingly asked how many audibles he called on the first day of practice.
“So many, so many,” he quipped. “Thirty probably. That's a good number.”
Asked how many were successful, he said, “Twenty-nine. One bad one.”
How Rodgers and LaFleur fit philosophically will be a huge key to the season. There isn’t much to be concerned about now because the regular season is six weeks away and the Packers are still in the installation phase.
But unless LaFleur is willing to give up as much control as McCarthy did, it’s likely he’ll have to say no to Rodgers on some changes to the offense. If Rodgers is holding the ball and scrambling around like he did last year, then it will be obvious the two aren’t on the same page.
“The on-the-field relationship is one that grows over time,” Rodgers said. “He hasn’t called a play into me in a game situation yet, so there’s a process of feeling comfortable with the way the play comes in and him trusting me and me trusting him.
“But I feel great about the communication. He’s in every meeting. We spend time one-on-one talking about stuff. He’s the main voice in the offensive room, but he really appreciates open conversation and ideas and creativity. It’s been a great relationship, a great start to it, and I look forward to that growing and getting into that rhythm with him as a play caller.”