GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers may very well play in Thursday night’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders in Winnipeg. In fact, after the Green Bay Packers quarterback practiced on Monday — for the first time back on a football field since experiencing back tightness last Wednesday — it’s likely he will.
But that doesn’t mean he necessarily thinks he absolutely, positively needs the preseason work in order to be ready for the team’s Sept. 5 regular-season opener against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. And — despite the team running a new offense after 13 years in Mike McCarthy’s system — coach Matt LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst don’t believe it’s a must-do, either.
And yet, after he was a late scratch before last week’s 26-13 loss at Baltimore because of the back pain, Rodgers plans to play against the Raiders — despite a relatively convincing explanation at his locker as to why it’s unnecessary.
“I do find it interesting that some teams get a pass this time of year. The (Los Angeles) Rams don’t play anybody and not many people talk about that fact,” Rodgers said Monday afternoon, after what some felt was his crispest practice of camp. “Now, the counter would be, ‘Well, this is a new system.’ I get it.
“But we’ve spent a number of practices from May and June and training camp in July and now in August running this stuff — (including) running unscripted periods, where (LaFleur) has to call the play in. I feel very comfortable in the offense conceptually, philosophically, enunciating the plays, getting us in the right formation, getting the checks within the play easily figured out. I feel very comfortable with it.
“If we didn’t play, I’d feel great going into Week 1. If we did, I wouldn’t really be worried too much about the results. If we go down and score a touchdown (against the Raiders), it’s not going to give me any more confidence than I already have in the scheme. If we go three-and-out, it’s not going to dampen any confidence that I have in what we’ve established so far in the training camp practices.”
Rodgers explained that LaFleur has bulit in game-like conditions into practice that have him doing everything on the field that he’d be doing in a game. While the classic rock or hip-hop tunes blaring from the sideline speakers may not accurately approximate crowd noise, it’s not as if opposing fans are particularly boisterous during preseason games, either.
“The way that we practice, we do a number of periods where it’s an unscripted, move-the-ball type period, where (LaFleur) is calling the plays in (to Rodgers’ helmet speaker),” Rodgers explained. “I have to get us lined up and the play given to the guys in the right manner and alignments and assignments and movement and motion. We’ve done a number of those periods.
“I think that’s the work that gives you confidence that this is not going to be a growing process from a play-caller to quarterback standpoint. It is what it is. The preseason, you don’t carry those wins over to the regular season.”
LaFleur liked what he saw from Rodgers during Monday’s practice, which was the last open-to-the-public session of camp. The Packers have another practice set for Tuesday before departing for Canada on Wednesday. They will have one more preseason game to play on Aug. 29 against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lambeau Field, but Rodgers and the starters are almost certain to sit that one out given that the opener against the Bears is seven days later.
“You could definitely feel his energy and I know he was excited to be back out there. It was evident,” LaFleur said. “He looked pretty good today to me. I was excited to have him back out there. Thought he did a great job.”
But when asked if Rodgers will play Thursday, LaFleur was non-committal.
“We’ll see. I don’t think it’s going to make or break us one way or the other,” LaFleur replied. “Again, I got so much confidence in him, and I know our guys do as well. We’ve gotten a lot of good work, so I’m not overly concerned either way, whether he plays or not.”
Asked what his concern level would be if Rodgers didn’t play a single snap in preseason, Gutekunst replied: “Not high. I certainly would like to see him get some of that rust off of him before he gets into the Chicago game. But he’s done it for a long time at a high level, so my level of concern wouldn’t be high.”
When it was pointed out to him that despite all his experience, he’s in the first year of LaFleur’s system, Gutekunst pointed to the two joint practices the Packers had with the Houston Texans earlier this month — practices Rodgers didn’t particularly like — as having provided game-like conditions
“It’s not like it’s a different sport. Football’s football,” Gutekunst said. “Again, we’d love to have him out there. But again, I think he got a lot practice reps against Houston. I know he wasn’t a fan of ‘em, but those two days vs. Houston I think were important, to get out there in that environment.
“I think the plan is to get him out there Thursday night and we’ll see about Kansas City. But hopefully that will go well.”
Rodgers said he wasn’t sure what brought on the back issue — “It kind of locked up on me last week,” he said — and said he actually considered practicing on Sunday before the medical staff held him out.
“It definitely feels better now,” Rodgers said.
So will Rodgers play? For his part, the quarterback said it’s up to LaFleur to make the call.
“That just depends on Matt and what he wants to do with us,” Rodgers said. “I’m kind of right where I always am. The practices are so much more important than the preseason.
“The looks that we see on a day like today (against the Packers’ No. 1 defense) are invaluable reps. It’s an attacking defense, it’s different fronts, it’s different pressures. Oakland does some different things over the last couple preseasons that stress you at times protection-wise, so it’s not as vanilla as you might see in the preseason. But the best reps I’m going to see all summer are in practice.
“If Matt wants us to play, we’ll play and go out and compete. If not, I feel pretty good about where we’re at.“