Richard Rodgers could step into bigger role in Packers' offense


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- To a sideline observer at Green Bay Packers practice on Tuesday, it looked like Scott Tolzien put the ball exactly where he wanted. The backup quarterback flung a corner route to the right sideline, where tight end Richard Rodgers reached out with his left hand and hauled it in on his way to the ground.

Except that's not at all what Tolzien did.

"I really didn't think it had a chance when I let go of it," Tolzien said. "Richard's just an unbelievable athlete."

Tolzien then went on to rave about Rodgers' hands, saying they're "honestly, right up there with anyone on our team."

Those hands were rarely on display last season, when Rodgers caught just 25 passes in 18 games (including playoffs) as a rookie. However, 10 of those catches, including a touchdown in the NFC divisional playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys, came in his final three games, leaving the Packers optimistic that they can get more production out of their tight ends this season.

"Richard Rodgers has definitely taken a step from last year," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after Tuesday’s practice.

"He's taken a step offensively in the passing game and completely understands it," McCarthy added after also raving about Rodgers' play on special teams in practice so far. "You think about where he was this time last year. He's comfortable and he's catching the ball very well. He's off to a good start."

Rodgers -- or any of the other tight end on the roster -- may never replicate what the Packers had in Jermichael Finley before the 2013 neck injury ended his career. Finley, who ran a 4.66 40-yard dash, had the rare combination of speed and size (6-foot-5, 247) that provided matchup nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.

Rodgers (6-4, 257) comes close in the size department but not in speed with a 4.82 40 time. He joked that if he were faster, he would have caught that pass from Tolzien with two hands.

"In my opinion, he's a smart football player and so you don't always have to be the fastest guy," Tolzien said. "You don't have to look any further than last year, when he made a lot of big plays and a lot of catches in traffic."

Last season, Rodgers played 528 snaps (44.5 percent of the offensive plays), while Andrew Quarless played 695. It wouldn't be a major surprise if their roles were reversed this season. Quarless is the better blocker but if it's a down-the-field receiver the Packers want at that position, then Rodgers -- as he showed on Tuesday -- is the better option.

"You've got to take advantage of your opportunities," Rodgers said. "I thought I did toward the end of the season when I was put in a position to succeed and win my one-on-one matchups. Aaron [Rodgers] had trust to throw me the ball and I just tried to take advantage of my opportunities and matchups."