Aaron Rodgers returns to Packers' practice while Kurt Benkert prepares to fill backup role against Bears
GREEN BAY - Quarterback Aaron Rodgers returned to the practice field Friday, two days ahead of the Green Bay Packers' game against the Chicago Bears.
This was only the second time the reigning MVP has taken physical reps on the practice field since Week 9. His participation in practice had primarily been limited to mental reps, calling out plays as backup Jordan Love took snaps.
Coach Matt LaFleur told reporters after Friday’s practice that Rodgers was still a limited participant on the day, but did more work than he had in weeks.
“He was limited and took as many reps as he could," LaFleur said. "That’s the most he’s had in probably the last three games.”
Rodgers has been dealing with a fractured toe suffered while he was in an at-home quarantine for COVID-19 during Weeks 9 and 10.
Since incurring the injury, Rodgers has largely been a non-participant at practice, save for one Friday he participated in a limited role. Backup quarterback Jordan Love had been taking all of the first-team reps during that time. Love was placed in COVID-19 protocol this week and practice squad passer Kurt Benkert was elevated to the active roster. Benkert took first-team reps Wednesday and Thursday, before Rodgers returned Friday.
Rodgers has still been playing each Sunday, going 2-1 in the time he has been held out of practice. Still, for the guy snapping to him, Lucas Patrick, having Rodgers back during the week in a more involved role brought a sense of comfort.
“We do it on Sunday’s. Seems to be going OK,” said Patrick before adding, “good to have him out there, good to have his cadence … it is valuable to have him out there.”
Benkert gets focused week of prep
With Love on the reserve/COVID-19 list and Rodgers held out physically Wednesday and Thursday, Benkert was QB1 in practice most of the week. The practice squad mainstay saw his day-to-day routine change with the added responsibilities, and the ardent video-game player was given instructions from his head coach to shift his focus.
“I told him he can’t spend as much time on those video games; make sure you put in the work on ball,” LaFleur said.
Benkert laughed while promising he heeded his coach's message and hasn’t touched a controller all week. Instead, after months of taking what he termed the “leftover” reps from Rodgers and Love, he focused on the nuances of being the first-team quarterback.
“Definitely a little bit of a change of a role and obviously like I'm always prepared, but it's a little bit different," Benkert said. "You forget the nuances of things like hearing the play, having to remember it, call it, while teammates try to talk to you and give you whatever in the huddle, that you just don't get until you're being forced to burn into it. You can do a bunch of mental reps and walkthrough and all that sort of stuff, but there's little nuances of timing and motion and stuff you can't get much, so it was kind of nice to knock the rust off.”
But after doing the math to determine how many “day-to-days” he’d spent in the league, it was a responsibility he welcomed. A total of 1,319 days passed from the time Benkert entered the NFL and when he was told he’d be elevated to the active roster for in-season prep. And Sunday, he’ll suit up for his first NFL regular-season game.
“When I put it into days, I was like ‘dang, that’s quite some time.’ But you kind of look at it week-to-week and you get lost how much time really passed…I definitely thought I would (play again), I just didn’t think it would take this long.”
Reserve/COVID-19 and injury updates
With Benkert set to suit up Sunday, it appears unlikely Jordan Love will be activated off of the reserve/COVID-19 list for this weekend.
Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell returned to practice Friday, after spending the past week and a half on the list, and was a limited participant. He is questionable for Sunday.
"I thought he did a nice job," LaFleur said. "He’s still got to work through the whole protocol. Provided he does that OK, checks out OK, then he’ll play.”
Tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) and wide receiver Randall Cobb (core) have both been ruled out for Sunday.
LaFleur continued to sport a mask Friday, while also appearing under the weather. He reiterated the mask was part of protocols from being a close contact Monday.
“Just that time of the year," he said. "That's one thing we've been trying to emphasize with our guys, is just getting rest, hydrate, but I am corona free.”
Packers tight ends coach Justin Outten will not be in attendance at Sunday’s game due to COVID-19 protocols, the club said. Quarterbacks/passing game coordinator Luke Getsy and offensive quality control coach Ryan Mahaffey will handle his responsibilities.
Jaire Alexander put together a practice hat trick, participating three days in a row after being elevated from injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
“I thought 'Ja' is progressing nicely,” LaFleur said. “Again, it’s a long process so it was good to get him out there doing some individual drills."