Four Downs: How much preseason time for Aaron Rodgers?

Pete Dougherty
Packers News
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With the Green Bay Packers’ official offseason work finished, here’s a Four Downs of tidbits and observations about four weeks before the start of training camp:

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) huffs and puffs in warmups during organized team activities May 23, 2017 at Clarke Hinkle Field.

First down: Coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t yet added robotic tackling dummies into the Packers’ practice regimen, but don’t be surprised if he does in the next year or two.

The Packers are among the NFL teams that have contacted the company that manufactures the dummies, Mobile Virtual Player, though only the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Rams have placed orders. The Steelers are the lone NFL club that has used the robots in an open practice setting and talked publicly about them.

The robots offer a way for teams to practice tackling without subjecting ball carriers to hits. They can cover 40 yards in 5.0 seconds, change direction well enough to zig zag through cones, and they can spin. They weigh between 160 pounds and 180 pounds and cost about $8,000 each.

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“It didn’t work out this year,” McCarthy said, “but it’s a good product. You never really want to be first on things, you never want to be last. I think any new product there’s some hiccups you work through. But I think it’s an excellent, excellent product.”

The dummies were the brainchild of some Dartmouth College engineering students after the school’s football coach, Buddy Teevens, made the then-radical decision to ban tackling in his practices in 2010. The Ivy League as a whole banned tackling in practice in 2016.

The Packers almost never tackle in practice – since McCarthy became coach in 2006, the only time I can remember them tackling is at select times during their annual Family Night scrimmage. I’ve covered the league since 1993, and a constant lament over those years is that tackling skills continue to decline as teams have tackled less and less in practice.

The Packers do tackling drills every day in practice, though when it’s player-on-player it’s at far less than full speed, and the players fall onto huge landing pads to avoid injury. They also tackle stationary dummies and last year added tackling doughnuts to their drills. The doughnuts are large padded rings that a coach rolls as the tackler approaches to simulate hitting a moving target.

The videos of the MVP tackling dummy online show the dummies move plenty fast. One thing the dummies can’t simulate is shake-and-bake moves, though you can bet that will be among its innovations in the near future.

“The people I’ve talked to, I haven’t heard anything negative about them,” McCarthy said. “It’s more about the drill work, how you incorporate. But I think it’s an excellent product. At the end of the day it’s about footwork. You have to work your feet. Guys don’t miss a tackle if you have to get your feet right first.”

Second down: We know Aaron Rodgers won’t play much in preseason games, though the question is whether he’ll play any more than last season, when he played in only one preseason game and a total of 31 snaps.

The case for playing him more is to help the offense hone timing in a game setting so it’s better prepared for the regular-season opener. The case against is exposing Rodgers to the risk of injury in a game that doesn’t count in the standings.

I think the risks are asymmetric. To get Rodgers injured in a preseason game – whether it’s a season-ending injury or a lesser injury that sidelines him for a few weeks or diminishes his play for several weeks – is a catastrophe. Think of Brett Favre’s thumb fracture when he banged his thumb on a pass rusher in the preseason in 1999. That affected him all year. The potential gain is too short term to be worth that risk.

DOUGHERTY: McCarthy, Packers seek finishing touch

In a one-on-one interview last week, McCarthy gave no indication of his plans. It’s safe to say he has a good idea of what he’s going to do, but it’s subject to tweaking based on how things go in training camp. Rodgers has made clear he doesn’t think he needs any preseason game action to be ready, and while it’s more about the timing of the offense as a whole, he’s basically right.

“(That’s) the confidence he has in the way he practices,” McCarthy said. “Your best players need to be your best people, and they need to emulate what you want as a program. Aaron Rodgers does that better than anybody has ever done it. He practices every day, he practices hard, he competes.

“… He has great confidence in the way he practices that he’s ready to play. When he’s practicing, he’s playing the game. That’s what you want it to look (like). He’s not only a great player, he’s a great practice player. So competitive.”

Third down: Rodgers is the king of McCarthy’s quarterback school, but backup Brett Hundley has challenged a couple of his training records this year.

The school remains a big part of McCarthy’s plan to develop quarterbacks even if NFL offseason rules have shortened its duration. Among the ways they work to improve is with drills that measure position-specific athletic skills.

Rodgers holds most of the records, which date to when McCarthy was an assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs in the early 1990s. But Hundley, who’s in his third season with the Packers, has caught Rodgers on a couple drills: rope jumping and agile-bag footwork.

Hundley said he has tied Rodgers for the most rope jumps in 20 seconds – he couldn’t remember if it’s 72 or 73. He’s also tied Rodgers for most times getting both feet over the agile-bag drill in 10 seconds, moving one foot at a time to either side of the bag. Both have done 14.

“It took me three years to finally almost break these records,” Hundley said.

Fourth down: McCarthy sent two coaches to the young coaches clinic the NFL conducted this month: defensive front assistant Jerry Montgomery and assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko.

The clinic for assistant coaches with one to three years’ experience in the NFL was conducted at the New York Jets’ training facility. The program was to help young coaches who came into the league with much of their training in computer work and expose them to more varied on-field coaching techniques.

The clinic featured teaching by former NFL coaches such as Norv Turner, Kevin Gilbride and Dave Wannstedt.

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