Packers coach Matt LaFleur on Aaron Rodgers: 'Hopefully we'll see him Tuesday' for minicamp
GREEN BAY - On the calendar filled with important dates pertaining to quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ disgruntlement with the Green Bay Packers, June 8 is circled in pencil.
That’s because June 8 marks the start of mandatory veteran minicamp, the first session of the offseason program with required attendance. While, in theory, Rodgers must show up for the three-day camp, head coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday he doesn’t know if Rodgers will.
“It's important that we have all our guys and certainly we'd love him to be here and hopefully we'll see him Tuesday,” LaFleur said.
The date marking the start of minicamp should be circled in pencil as it relates to Rodgers, not permanent marker. The fine associated with missing mandatory minicamp won’t likely make a 16-year NFL veteran quarterback’s wallet bleed out. According to the collective bargaining agreement, the league can fine a player up to $93,085 for missing all three days of minicamp.
Rodgers has missed the entirety of the voluntary offseason program to this point, and while attendance isn’t required, Rodgers hasn’t skipped these sessions in previous years. His motivation for sitting out seems to stem from frustration with the organization’s “philosophy,” as referenced in his SportsCenter appearance last week.
Rodgers is not the only veteran Packers player to miss the voluntary offseason program – several wide receivers, including Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and Devin Funchess, have not been present at organized team activities (OTAs).
“Just speaking from a friend standpoint, I just miss one of my friends just like I miss Allen, Davante,” tight end Robert Tonyan said of Rodgers. “It is optional, and I do wish one of my favorite teammates and friends on the team was here.”
After missing last week’s OTA that was open to the media, left tackle David Bakhtiari was present at practice Wednesday.
Bakhtiari, who is five months removed from tearing his ACL at practice last season, worked in the rehab group with a trainer and did not participate in individual or team drills. According to LaFleur, Bakhtiari’s recovery is ahead of schedule.
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“I think he came back and he's in excellent shape,” LaFleur said. “We're just gonna take it one day at a time and I think he's a little bit ahead of schedule, but then again, there's a long way until the start of the season and we'll see where he's at when it comes to that time.”
While LaFleur seemed optimistic about Bakhtiari’s progress, he emphasized that the team is not in a rush to see Bakhtiari return to action. LaFleur said it’s important to “protect these guys from themselves” and not allow Bakhtiari’s desire to return to cloud his physical evaluation.
Even though Bakhtiari didn’t participate in team drills, he managed to share feedback with his fellow offensive linemen throughout practice.
“I think the best thing that Dave does, he raises the whole standard of the room,” right guard Lucas Patrick said. “And even in practice today, just communicating with us and giving us tips and pointers. He's the best at his position. So when you have the best at a position on your team and in your room, there's guys like that and they just raise everyone's standards.”
Packers sign Stokes
First-round draft pick Eric Stokes, a cornerback out of Georgia, has been signed, the team announced. That leaves third-round receiver Amari Rodgers as the Packers' last remaining unsigned 2021 draft pick.
The Packers were again without their top five receivers Wednesday, as Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Devin Funchess and Equanimeous St. Brown all missed the optional session.
New opportunities for Braden
The Packers' offensive line had to compensate for the unavailability of both Bakhtiari and guard/tackle Elgton Jenkins at practice Wednesday.
Jenkins, who spent the bulk of the 2020 season at right guard, took first-team reps last week at left tackle in place of Bakhtiari. With Jenkins missing, the Packers plugged third-year guard Ben Braden in at left tackle. Braden worked alongside Jon Runyan, Jr. at left guard, Josh Myers at center, Lucas Patrick at right guard and Billy Turner at right tackle. After those initial first-team reps, Braden slid over to right guard, Turner moved to left tackle and rookie Royce Newman took snaps at right tackle.
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The Packers signed the 2017 undrafted free agent to the practice squad on Sept. 12, 2019, but he was released nearly two months later. The team brought him back to the practice squad for a second time on Oct. 21, 2020 after Bakhtiari left the Week 6 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a chest injury.
Braden was quickly signed to the active roster ahead of Week 7 against the Houston Texans on Oct. 24. He was waived after the Texans game and subsequently signed to the practice squad. He was elevated three more times during the regular season, including a four-snap appearance against the San Francisco 49ers. Braden was promoted to the active roster on Jan. 2, 2021.