The Packers have a new offense, but you can still expect Aaron Rodgers to continue to freelance and create plays outside the pocket.
There will be plays that, as they develop, will cause them angst.
“I was teasing them about how every coach always says, ‘No, no, no. Oh, good play,'” Rodgers said this week in an interview with ESPN.com. “It’s always a ‘No’ until, it’s ‘Oh yeah, good play.’ I said, ‘There’s going to be a couple of those, trust me. But they usually work out pretty good.'”
Which raises the question: Under new coach Matt LaFleur, will Rodgers look like a different quarterback this season or will he simply look like the same Rodgers in a new system?
“That’s a great question,” new Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “I would sit there and say Aaron is Aaron. Aaron has done some pretty good things up to this point in his career. And I think we’re still trying to understand this whole offense as a group, as a whole and where we can try to take him even farther. I think that’s what we’re always trying to find out, what we’re trying to accomplish.
“We just want to make it even easier for him. It’s one of those things … he’s already at a very high level and we’ve all seen that. We all know that. And I think that our job as coaches with this offense is to just try to fit it with him and give him more ammo. And that’s something that’s going to be … it’s going to be fluid, and I think that’s what we’re trying to work towards.”
It’s not exactly like Mike McCarthy’s task when he inherited Brett Favre in 2006. The previous year, Favre set a career high with 29 interceptions on a 4-12 team. Favre’s response to an offense-challenged team was to try to throw his way out of it.
Rodgers simply wasn’t as productive in McCarthy’s final year. He threw only 25 touchdown passes — his lowest total in a full season. Although he threw only two interceptions, his accuracy suffered and his default setting when plays broke down was to throw the ball away. He led all quarterbacks with 59 throwaways, according to Pro Football Focus, and that’s the most since it began tracking the stat in 2006.
Rodgers likened LaFleur’s offense to learning a foreign language, but now that he has been through the entire installation process, he’s starting to speak it more fluently.
He has also tried to stay true to it as much as possible in practice to protect the integrity of the play and aid the learning process for those around him instead of instantly scrambling and freelancing. In the past, the Packers would actually practice the scramble drill to allow Rodgers and his receivers to work on so-called “off-schedule throws.”
“With a new offense, I’m really trying to trust the progressions and my eyes and learn timing on different things,” Rodgers told reporters after Tuesday’s minicamp practice. “In order to do that, you really have to give it a chance to develop.”
When asked how long that will last, Rodgers joked: “Game 1. Play 1.”
Whether joking or serious, Rodgers doesn’t expect to have to alter his game drastically.
“I don’t think so, I really don’t,” he told ESPN.com. “The offense will look a little different, for sure. There’s more motions and different formations than we’ve had in years past, but no. Look, if I could have it my way, I wouldn’t have to scramble or move. But I have instincts ingrained in me from years of doing it. And if I get in those situations, that’s what I do. And until my legs fail me, it’s an asset to the offense.”
It sounds as if LaFleur can live with that — even if there are occasions when he has those “no-no-no” thoughts.
“He’s played the game with a certain style for his whole career, and he’s done it at a pretty high level,” LaFleur said. “I think just some of the things that he’s been able to really enhance within our offense has been a lot of fun to watch. You saw that off-schedule play that he made down in the red zone. He made another one to Jake Kumerow where I didn’t anticipate the ball going where it went, but that’s where it went and it was a touchdown. We never want to take that playmaker away from him.”