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Monday, August 11, 2008
Rodgers starts the journey tonight


Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Four days into training camp, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer visited Green Bay. The Packers had scheduled the visit months earlier, but the timing couldn't have been better.

 
 AP Photo/Morry Gash
 Aaron Rodgers hopes the focus is now on how he plays and not what he says.

Fleischer, who now runs a sports media consulting firm, spoke at a team meeting amid a national firestorm surrounding the pending departure of quarterback Brett Favre. And so it came to be that Aaron Rodgers, the Packers' hand-picked replacement, found himself listening intently to a former political spinmeister in an all-avenues effort to find a path through chaos.

In fact, Rodgers even sought out Fleischer afterwards for some personal advice.

"I just had some questions for him," Rodgers said. "Some of the stuff he said is probably top secret, but the big thing is he just said to be truthful. That's the first thing he said. Be truthful and make sure you get your message out there. The one that you want."

Yes, Rodgers can use help from all angles as he replaces arguably the most legendary player in Packers history. That process will take its next step Monday night as Green Bay opens its preseason against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lambeau Field.

Thanks to Fleischer and his own easy-going demeanor, Rodgers has handled the public portion of his job flawlessly. But beginning Monday night, both the media and fans will begin judging him based on his work on the field.

"I have a lot of expectations on the way I think I should play," Rodgers said. "I know the guys in the locker room believe in me. Management believes in me. It's just me doing the things that [coaches have] taught us to do: Managing the game, taking the big plays when you have those opportunities, and pulling back when we don't. I feel like the time I put in the offseason has prepared me for that."

Even Rodgers would admit his practice performance this summer has been inconsistent. His knowledge of the Packers' offense is evident even to the most casual observer, and he rarely looks confused or even hesitant on throws. But Rodgers' accuracy has been suspect, and he has thrown enough interceptions to illicit boos from the normally loyal Packers fan base.

Rodgers has heard the catcalls and admits they don't slide off his shoulders. (Thanks, Ari!). Some of the sentiments can be attributed to Favre's departure. Nevertheless, Rodgers hasn't earned the benefit of the doubt yet in Green Bay.

"We've got great fans," he said, "and I hope I can win them over."

Monday night would be a good start.