Thursday, December 26, 2013
Rodgers' return has two-fold impact
By Rob Demovsky
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As quarterback Aaron Rodgers' passes zipped around the Don Hutson Center on Thursday, Green Bay Packers' receivers seemed to have an extra inch or two to their vertical jumps and their offensive linemen appeared to hold their blocks for a second or two longer.
OK, maybe not.
But things felt -- and looked -- different at practice on Thursday.
Can Rodgers' return from his Nov. 4 broken collarbone have that big of an impact?
"That's why you pay him so much money because he makes everyone else better," Packers receiver James Jones said. "If he was just a one-man show and only made himself better, he probably wouldn't be a $100 million man, but he makes this team a thousand times better."
From his rocket arm and improvisational skills outside the pocket to his ability to read defenses and make the right adjustments at the line of scrimmage, Rodgers can do things that few other quarterbacks can. Certainly not Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn -- the trio of backups that combined to go 2-5-1 in games Rodgers did not start or finish.
Time and again since Rodgers broke his left collarbone when Chicago Bears defensive end Shea McClellin sacked him in the first quarter of the Week 9 game at Lambeau Field, numerous teammates have referred to Rodgers as not only the best quarterback in the NFL but also as the best player in the league.
When you're a player of that caliber, teammates don't just play with you, they play for you.
"I think one of Aaron's strengths is he brings out the best in those around him in a lot of different ways," Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. "And that's a special quality that he has."
As big of an impact as Rodgers has on the X's and O's of football, his influence on his teammates psyche may be just as important, although more difficult to measure.
Not that receivers such as Jones or Jordy Nelson weren't selling out to catch passes from Flynn the past month. Not that offensive linemen David Bakhtiari, Don Barclay, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton weren't pass protecting as well as they could. But players like Rodgers have a way of elevating the play of those around them.
It may not be something they even realize or can measure but deep down in their subconscious, it's there.
That said, the Packers have to be careful not to take on the attitude that Rodgers' return will cure everything. Perhaps that's why when coach Mike McCarthy announced in Thursday's morning's team meeting the Packers are preparing for Rodgers to start Sunday's game against the Bears, there was no cheering or hooting and hollering.
"Aaron even let us know that," Jones said. "Just cause he's back, it don't guarantee nothing. We've got to go out there and play. He's got to play at a high level, we've got to play at a high level, and we've got to win a game."