GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers greeted a pair of reporters Monday and grabbed a seat after the Green Bay Packers had practiced in full pads for nearly three hours. I reached deep into my training as a journalist, searching for an original and cutting question to begin our interview.
"How's it going?" I asked.
"Good," Rodgers said. "We're good."
And then we were off.
"We're going to be a better team this year," Rodgers said. "We're going to play better. We'll be better up front [on defense], I think. Different attitude, I think. We brought in some guys with some nasty to them."
The Packers finished last season 15-1 before the New York Giants knocked them out of the playoffs in the divisional round. Historically speaking, it's unlikely the Packers will match or exceed last season's record. But the first few days of training camp have convinced Rodgers that the team's energy level is up, its comfort level down and a significant if underplayed flaw in last season's team has been corrected.
"I think there was a little bit of some too-comfortable mentality," he said. "One of the things that winning does is it masks some of the issues you might have. When you have a real successful season, the little things get swept under the rug and the big things become little things. It's hard to knock a team on energy and enthusiasm and effort when you're still going out and winning. But it can catch up to you at some point, and it did with us."
In retrospect, the Packers might have been too professional and clinical for their own good last season. We noted in the spring that the Packers were seeking more "juice" for their defensive front, adding excitable players like Anthony Hargrove and Daniel Muir via agency and drafting a couple of live personalities in defensive linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels.
The Packers hope those players add a level of pass rush and interior disruption that the defense missed last season. But just as important, they appear already to have injected a level of energy to the team's practices and mentality. Monday, it was worth noting that Rodgers was playfully engaging Hargrove in some verbal jousting during practice. When we spoke with Rodgers afterwards, the Packers' locker room was so loud that I could hardly hear him.
"And I'm not just talking about Hargrove," Rodgers said. "These are energy guys. Daniel Muir, Jerel Worthy, Daniels. Those guys are bringing some energy this year, and I think they are going to inspire some of the other guys, like B.J. [Raji] and [Ryan] Pickett, who aren't big energy guys -- good players, but not emotional energy guys -- maybe to pick their level up, too.
I don't think Rodgers is laying the blame of last season's playoff loss at the feet of the defensive front. Put bluntly, the entire team probably needed a kick in the pants after winning Super Bowl XLV and cruising through most of the 2011 regular season. The defensive line is where it happened to manifest itself.
As we noted last week, the Packers are looking for ways to ensure that things don't usually come that easily. The Packers have more juice, for sure, and that's a start.
"We're going to play better football," Rodgers said. "It might not be 15 wins, but I think we're going to be a more sound team."
More to come.