Aaron Rodgers stepped onto the practice field for his first training camp practice Sunday as the Packers' third-string holder and fourth-string quarterback. But don’t let his position on the depth chart fool you.
Rodgers, who signed a $7.7 million contract Saturday night, has been studying, practicing and preparing as best he can to be Brett Favre’s backup quarterback this season. He was tutored by Packers quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell for two weeks after the June minicamp on the team’s offense. Though he missed the first couple days of full-squad practices, Rodgers seemed to fit right in during practices on Sunday.
“He knows what he needs to accomplish,” said Bevell. “He knew what he needs to study and you can tell that he did that.”
Rodgers met every morning at 7:30 a.m. for an hour with Bevell, throwing the ball in the Don Hutson Center, the team’s indoor training facility, and going over offense with Bevell. The team’s top draft pick (24th overall) said the time spent with Bevell has helped him reach a better comfort level with the offense. During the June minicamp, Rodgers often struggled completing passes and taking charge of the offense, but that has changed.
“I feel a lot more comfortable with the offense and the timing of my drop with the routes,” Rodgers said. “I’m eliminating the high throws and feeling more comfortable. That’s the key for me, to get to a comfort level where I can react instead of thinking out there. I felt a lot better today.”
For the most part, Rodgers looked very comfortable Sunday. He completed a number of passes and was sharp as a tack team drills.
“Certainly having him in here for the previous minicamps has allowed him the opportunity to know what we’re doing to a certain degree,” said Packers coach Mike Sherman. “We certainly didn’t throw the book at him today and have him perform at a level of expectation that we have with (Brett) Favre, but he functioned today, considering the fact that he hasn’t been out here.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Rodgers’ five-year contract includes $5.4 million of guaranteed money. Based on escalators, it could pay him almost $25 million if he becomes the starter in the next two or three years. Rodgers said the contract was important, but he wanted to be in training camp as soon as possible for a number of reasons.
“Obviously I want to be here with my teammates and let the fans know that I’m a dedicated guy,” Rodgers said. “I’m a team guy. Obviously, I care about my future. I wanted to get that worked out first, but it was important to get here and get going. I’ve got a spot to compete for and I’ve got a long way to go if I’m going to be the next Packers starting quarterback in a few years.”
Rodgers is competing against Craig Nall and J.T. O’Sullivan for the backup spot behind Favre. He’s competing against Nall and punter B.J. Sander to hold for Ryan Longwell on extra point and field goal attempts. If he can gain Longwell’s confidence, Rodgers may have a better shot at suiting up for each game as Favre’s backup. In the meantime, he’s soaking in being around Favre as much as possible.
“I felt good out there,” Rodgers said. “Life is good when you’re playing with Brett Favre. He loosens things up and makes it a lot easier. It doesn’t even feel like training camp when Brett’s out here. He’s cracking jokes and it’s a lot of fun.”
The Packers no doubt wanted Rodgers in camp ASAP so he can practice against the Buffalo Bills, who will be coming to Green Bay later this week to scrimmage. In practices, the coaches are tutoring Rodgers before each play, but letting him react to the defensive scheme at the snap of the ball.
“We want him to get a lot of work with the Bills, but we've got the luxury of bringing him along at his pace," offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "He has to show us that he's ready to do it live. We don't want to put him out there and have him fail. That's happened to a lot of quarterbacks. Your confidence gets shaken."