GREEN BAY - Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ inclination to favor wide receiver Davante Adams during the early part of training camp wouldn’t warrant much notice if Rodgers weren’t in the first year of a new offense.
Why wouldn’t he throw the ball to Adams as often as could?
Adams fell just short of breaking the club record for most receptions in a season with 111 catches for 1,388 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018, earning his first Pro Bowl selection and a No. 35 ranking on the NFL’s top 100 players heading into 2019.
But Rodgers generally spread the ball around a lot in previous training camps to help him develop a rapport with more than just his top receiver. That hasn’t been the case through the first six practices under first-year coach Matt LaFleur.
It would make sense given Rodgers hasn’t mastered every aspect of LaFleur’s new offense and goes with what is familiar when it comes to decision-making.
During a 2-minute drill Wednesday, for instance, Rodgers threw five of eight pass attempts — not including a spike to stop the clock — in Adams’ direction. He completed three of them for 27 yards before throwing a long fade into the end zone that Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught over cornerback Jaire Alexander for a 33-yard touchdown.
The final throw was the only one in which he decisively picked out a receiver other than Adams during that drill.
“A lot of those plays were designed for Davante,” LaFleur said after practice. “I’ll say this about Aaron, he’s done a great job of being disciplined in the progressions. And then, a lot of times he makes that play come to life when it’s not there in rhythm and he creates and extends.
“Obviously, they (Rodgers and Adams) have got a tremendous rapport with one another and there’s a lot of trust there, and that’s comforting for any quarterback.”
It has been that way through much of camp.
Perhaps because it is in the early going, Rodgers seeks comfort with a receiver he knows will be in the right place at the right time and make the catch even when the ball isn’t. It’s just that the early part of previous camps seemed to be occasions when Rodgers developed rapport with guys such as Geronimo Allison, Jake Kumerow and Valdes-Scantling.
Those players got Rodgers’ attention because they kept doing things right.
“The ball is going to come when it comes,” Valdes-Scantling said. “You have to just be able to make a play. It’s training camp, balls get spread around all over the place. We’re trying to figure out what we’re good at, what plays work and what plays don’t. We’re just trying a bunch of different things.
“They aren’t just plays designed for Davante or anybody else, we’re just trying everything.”
Allison said that the 2-minute drill was an example of how the new offense is going to function this year. The defense was set up to not allow Adams anything deep and so Rodgers felt he could take advantage of it.
Two of his completions to Adams were out routes against off coverage, meaning the cornerback was 7 yards off the line of scrimmage and in a position where it would be difficult to beat him deep.
“I think he takes what the defense gives him,” Allison said. “If both outside receivers have the same route, one has a press corner and one has an off corner, if he feels more comfortable going at the off corner, then that’s where he’s going to attack the defense.
“It’s predicated toward what the defense gives us and how he wants to attack. Sometimes plays are dictated and predicated for certain receivers and sometimes it’s a whole spatial concept. It all depends on what formation and what play call we’re in and how we’re going to execute it.”
Rodgers did wind up going to Valdes-Scantling when he needed a good one-on-one matchup, so it’s not like he’s afraid to throw to someone other than Adams. It’s just that the only receiver he seems to be connecting with on a consistent basis is his favorite one.
And there are others who need the work with him, not the least of which are tight end Jimmy Graham and receivers Equanimeous St. Brown, J’Mon Moore and Trevor Davis. There is a lot of camp left, but only so many snaps for each of the receivers.
For now, no one seems to be concerned about it. The receivers don’t feel they have to be more open than Adams to get the ball thrown their way; they only need to show that they can get open more times than not.
“I think whether the offense is new or old, he’s going to find Davante a fair amount,” Kumerow said. “That’s who he’s thrown the most completions to out of any of us in the group. He’s got the most connections and most trust with him, so he’s going to definitely look his way.
“And he’s our No. 1 receiver so we have some good plays drawn up for him to make some big plays.”
Kumerow said no matter where the ball is going, Rodgers is always looking at the big picture. He said the worst thing the receivers can do is assume that Rodgers is going to consistently go to Adams because if he doesn’t see you open during a given play, he will see it when the offense gathers to watch practice tape.
Olivia Reiner and Ryan Wood take questions from Packers fans after Day 6 of training camp on July 31. Olivia Reiner, PackersNews
Rodgers hasn’t logged any regular-season plays in LaFleur’s offense and so there may be times the defense reacts differently than he thought it would. As a result, someone other than Adams might be open on those occasions he’s locked on his favorite receiver.
Kumerow said Rodgers will remember if the same situation comes up again.
“For us, as other receivers, we have to just keep showing it on film because Aaron is so smart, he watches all the film,” Kumerow said. “If he sees you open on the backside, he doesn’t forget it. He sees you open in something, it will click in his memory bank the next time that play comes open and he’ll remember what you did.
“You have to always put good stuff on film whether you get the ball or not. That’s why I don’t care if I get the ball because as long as you put a good route on film he’ll notice it.”
As the season goes on, Adams will draw more attention from defenses and Rodgers will be forced to look in other directions. LaFleur said he isn’t worried about Rodgers developing chemistry with some of the others because he established it in previous camps.
If they are getting open, the receivers feel the ball will come.
“We already built that resume,” Allison said. “He expects what he’s been seeing from the past few years or so no matter if it’s a new offense or an old offense. We are professionals, we learn the personnel, we learn the offense and then he expects us to execute it and be on the same page.”