Aaron Rodgers, Packers downplay importance of preseason playing time

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GREEN BAY – While Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said the plan is for Aaron Rodgers to play Thursday against the Oakland Raiders, it’s clear the quarterback’s availability this preseason is not a priority.

Gutekunst echoed Monday what Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has said multiple times, that Rodgers, a 15th-year veteran, has played plenty of football. The Packers “would love” to have Rodgers play Thursday, but Gutekunst also referenced the joint practice reps against the Houston Texans earlier in camp.

It might seem strange that a quarterback who’s breaking into a new offense wouldn’t play in the preseason. Rodgers might’ve played a lot of football in his career, but none of those snaps were with LaFleur as a play caller. Gutekunst pushed back against the notion playing in a new offense makes preseason snaps any more important.

“It’s not like it’s a different sport,” Gutekunst said. “You know what I mean? Football’s football.”

Green Bay Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during training camp Monday, August 19, 2019, at Ray Nitschke Field in Ashwaubenon, Wis.

Unless he sees regression in the coming days, Rodgers will likely be healthy enough to play Thursday when the Packers travel to Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. Rodgers returned to practice Monday after missing Sunday’s session with the back tightness that kept him out of last week’s exhibition in Baltimore. The two-time MVP said he considered practicing Sunday, but thought better of it.

“It kind of locked up on me last week,” Rodgers said. “I was going through treatment Wednesday and Thursday, the morning of the game. I was just slowly feeling better every day. Thought about practicing (Sunday), but today was kind of a better option for me. So, felt good out there.”

The question remains: Will Rodgers be out there against the Raiders?

Rodgers said he’ll leave the decision up to LaFleur, who determines play time for all players. Still, Rodgers will likely have a significant influence into the decision, and he doesn’t believe any preseason snaps are necessary to be available for Week 1.

“The best reps I’m going to see all summer,” Rodgers said, “are in practice. If Matt wants us to play, we’ll play and go out and compete. If not, I feel pretty good about where we’re at.”

Beyond schematics, which can be very vanilla in the preseason, perhaps the most important aspects for the Packers to polish with their quarterback on the field is their up-tempo pace of play and on-field communication between Rodgers and LaFleur.

Rodgers said both objectives can be met in practice. The Packers have multiple “called periods” in practice, where the plays are unscripted and relayed over headset from LaFleur. Rodgers is responsible for getting the offense lined up before the snap and make sure teammates know their assignments.

“I think that’s the work,” Rodgers said, “that gives you confidence that this is not going to be a growing process from a play caller to a quarterback.”

Rodgers said preseason snaps are also unnecessary to build confidence.

“The preseason,” Rodgers said, “you don’t carry those wins over to the regular season. I do find it interesting that some teams get a pass this time of year. The (Los Angeles) Rams don’t play anybody (starters), and not many people talk about that fact. Now, the counter would be, ‘Well, this is a new system.’ I get it, but we’ve spent a number of practices from May and June and training camp in July and now in August running this stuff, running unscripted periods, where he has to call the play in.

“I feel very comfortable in the offense conceptually, philosophically, enunciating the plays, getting us in the right formation, getting the checks within the play easily figured out. I feel very comfortable with it. If we didn’t play, I’d feel great going into Week 1. If we did, I wouldn’t really be worried too much about the results. If we go down and score a touchdown, it’s not going to give me any more confidence than I already have in the scheme. If we go three-and-out, it’s not going to dampen any confidence that I have in what we’ve established so far in the training camp practices.

If Rodgers sits Thursday, it would mean more playing time for backups DeShone Kizer and Tim Boyle. Asked whether the Packers might look to bring in a veteran to compete for the backup job, Gutekunst said, "I think that's probably likely that it would come from guys on our roster right now.”

Graham avoids surgery on hand

In Sunday’s practice, Packers tight end Jimmy Graham had a ball awkwardly come off his hand and he immediately grabbed it and ran into the Don Hutson Center.

Though the 10th-year tight end did not appear on the practice field Monday, LaFleur said Graham did not require surgery.

“I’m not going to talk about injuries, but I think we might have escaped one there,” Gutekunst said.

It is unclear when Graham will return to practice.

Last season he suffered a broken thumb against Seattle in Week 10 but he did not miss a game.

Trade season heats up

In his first year as general manager, Gutekunst swung five trades, two of which happened near the end of training camp. On Aug. 26, he sent cornerback Lenzy Pipkins to Indianapolis for linebacker Antonio Morrison. Three days later he sent quarterback Brett Hundley to Seattle for a sixth-round pick (which turned out to be running back Dexter Williams).

Does it mean Gutekunst might have an itch in 2019?

“I think everybody’s, especially this week after that second preseason game, everybody’s calling, trying to figure out where you’re heavy, where you’re light, what you might be willing to part with,” Gutekunst said. “A lot of that is just information gathering, trying to figure out who has a realistic possibility of being out there at the 53 cut. So those conversations are happening.

"I think you’ve seen that in the past, late this week or early next week is when a lot of the trades happen. Once we get past that fourth preseason game, or really close to it, then everybody’s just waiting for ... guys to get cut or maybe you see some conditional seventh-round type of things, if they’re on the roster for eight weeks, or whatever. So, that’s just part of it this time of year. You’re looking at everything, trying to collect as much data as you can.”

Packers running backs remember Cedric Benson

Former Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals and Packers running back Cedric Benson died in a motorcycle accident Saturday, and people affiliated with Texas football and the NFL expressed their sympathies and memories, including Rodgers.

The death of Benson, just 36, hit home for a couple of Packers running backs who grew up in the shadow of a high school and college legend.

Aaron Jones, who grew up 300 miles west of Benson’s hometown of Midland, would see Benson’s track team competing around the state and definitely felt the aura of a player who rushed for the fourth-most yards in high school state history.

“Especially if you’re from west Texas you definitely knew who he was. I’d like to send my condolences to his family and friend’s (family),” said Jones, who went on to play college ball at Texas-El Paso. “Oh for sure that’s a guy you look up. Texas is a big for high school football and west Texas, they’re not so known for their football so when you get a player from there who’s done so many good things and so many big plays and goes on to Texas. ... You go there, you make plays, you have a great career and make it to the league and have a great career in the league, I mean, he definitely set the bar for us younger kids in west Texas to reach for.”

Tra Carson grew up on the other side of the state in Texakarna, about 500 miles east of Midland, and went to rival Texas A&M — but he was also a kid who watched Benson and the Longhorns on Saturdays.

“All the kids coming up, we watched the Longhorns play, so you’ve seen him play,” Carson said. “He’s one of the guys, honestly, you look up to as a kid watching him. It’s very sad. It’s a sad situation.”

Packers settle with Donnerson

The Packers reached an injury settlement with linebacker Kendall Donnerson, clearing him from the team’s injured reserve list. A seventh-round pick out of Southeast Missouri State last year, Donnerson spent much of his first year on the practice squad. He was signed to the 53-man active roster on Dec. 4. He did not appear in a game.

The 6-foot, 3-inch, 249-pound linebacker injured a hamstring early in camp and was eventually waived/injured Aug. 8. No team claimed him, so he reverted to the Packers’ injured reserve list. Donnerson can sign with any team. 

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