GREEN BAY - The first time the speaker in Aaron Rodgers’ helmet went silent, the Green Bay Packers quarterback had barely begun his NFL career.
He was in his first preseason game back in 2005, a home game against the then-San Diego Chargers. As Rodgers tells it, that was a pretty significant issue for a rookie quarterback.
“I had only a few plays that I knew pretty well,” Rodgers said, “and I called ‘arrow cross,’ that was kind of a go-to. I called ‘Two Jet Arrow Cross’ and threw it to the zebra, I think it was (receiver) Andrae Thurman – I missed him. But that was pretty inopportune for my first game to play in, and for it go to out.”
Rodgers, now 15 seasons into his career, is far better equipped to handle any equipment malfunctions that might arise. That doesn’t mean it’s any less annoying. Indeed, the audio in Rodgers’ helmet has gone silent three times in 2019, a rather surprising indictment of technology almost two decades into the 21st century.
The last time, Rodgers said, was last Sunday at Kansas City. Late in the third quarter, the Packers drove for a game-tying field goal. Rodgers was without audio in his helmet — a direct link to listen to play-caller Matt LaFleur — most of that drive.
“It’s strange,” Rodgers said, “for it to happen once in a year, but three times now in a year is definitely something we’ve got to figure out.”
LaFleur couldn’t agree more. Asked about the issue Friday, the first-year head coach said he’s given “a lot of people earfuls” about the problem.
How rare is it for the audio communication in a helmet to go out three times in eight games? LaFleur said he has never seen it happen.
“I’ve complained quite a bit about that,” LaFleur said. “I haven’t been a part of anything like this before, where it’s — yeah, it can happen in one game — but I think it’s happened in three or four games now. So it certainly is a concern for me, in terms of especially when you get down closer to the red zone, where you have really specific plays that you want to get called.”
LaFleur said Rodgers has called plays on his own when the headset malfunctions. Sometimes, LaFleur will have hand signals to help direct play calling. He’s also had skill players run new plays onto the field from the sideline. It’s an inexact game of telephone, and things can get lost in translation.
Which is why having a veteran quarterback helps.
“Shoot,” LaFleur said, “I felt like we were back in high school. I was telling the players, I think MVS (Marquez Valdes-Scantling) and Aaron Jones just some of the plays and trying to have them run them into him where you never quite know how that’s going to work out with some of those verbose play calls.
“Those guys did a good job of handling it.”
LaFleur said Rodgers’ helmet is checked before every possession to ensure the audio communicator is working. The frustrating part, LaFleur said, is that the audio worked before Sunday night’s game-tying drive against the Chiefs, only to fail after a couple plays.
As the Packers prepare for another game against the Chargers, their offense will deal with significantly less crowd noise than a week ago. It should be effectively a home game for Green Bay, with Packers fans making the trip to southern California en masse. Still, both coach and quarterback would appreciate no more technical difficulties.
Even if Rodgers’ acumen has advanced significantly in the past 15 years.
“I'm not worried about it,” Rodgers said. “My understanding of the offense at this point is such that I can get us in a good play whether we're in 11 (three receivers), 12 (two tight ends), 21 (two running backs), but obviously it helps if I can hear Matt.”
Davante Adams questionable
LaFleur said Davante Adams’ availability Sunday won’t be official until his 46-man game-day roster is turned in 90 minutes before kickoff, but the Packers' top receiver —who was listed as questionable on the Friday injury report — showed everyone Friday just how good his injured right big toe feels.
In a video posted on social media by WLUK, Green Bay’s local FOX affiliate, Adams was seen leaping over a member of LaFleur’s staff. Adams has been known to jump over people during practice before, showcasing his 39.5-inch vertical. Still, it’s easy to presume the Pro Bowl receiver might find it difficult to clear another human being if he were still struggling with the turf-toe injury that has kept him out of the past four games.
LaFleur hadn’t seen the video before speaking with reporters after Friday’s practice, but he seemed less than surprised.
“In all seriousness,” LaFleur said, “he has made progress.”
If Adams does play Sunday, it’ll be interesting to see whether the Packers place him on a snap count or if they’re willing to remove any limitations.
LaFleur, not willing to even say whether Adams is good to go, was careful not to tip his hand.
“It’s such a case-by-case basis,” he said, “in terms of how somebody’s feeling within the game. We’ve had that multiple times this year with guys like Kevin King (who played after being doubtful against Dallas), and you don’t know if he’s going to be in there and then he’s in there. Certainly we’re always mindful of a guy that’s been out for a while when you bring him back, in terms of you just don’t want to overload them.
“Typically, those discussions take place during the game in terms of, you know, how you feeling? And you know of work it out from there.”
Jimmy Graham understands role
Jimmy Graham saw Adams jump over that member of the Packers staff Friday and, despite good reason to the contrary, wasn’t surprised.
Adams might be freshly recovered from with a toe injury, but Graham quickly learned upon arriving in Green Bay last year his new teammate has special athleticism.
“He’s one of the most athletic guys in the NFL,” Graham said. “To see him jump over somebody just after getting back, especially two days before the game, it just lets you know the confidence he has in himself and that he’s feeling pretty good. Our offense is excited to have him back.”
The question, though, is what becomes of Graham when Adams returns. He hasn’t had much production in the past four and a half games without Adams, but it has been more than before Adams’ injury. Of Graham’s 234 yards through eight games this season, 158 (67 percent) have come since Adams’ injury.
Graham wasn’t the top target in the Packers’ passing game in Adams’ absence, that distinction going to running back Aaron Jones. Still, he saw an uptick in opportunities. Graham said Friday he understands his role, even if it’s diminished compared to most of his career.
“Through the years obviously at times I’ve been the No. 1,” Graham said, “and now I have a No. 1. So as long as we’re winning games, I could care less. I don’t care what they ask me to do or how they ask me to do it. I’m going to do it, and I’m happy to do it.”