GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers spent a good part of his offseason improving his relationship with his brothers.
No, we’re not talking about the way the Green Bay Packers quarterback’s personal life became a subject of public discussion after his relationship with his family became a plotline on ABC’s “The Bachelorette.” For his part, Rodgers stayed above that fray, with his lone comment being that he felt it was “a little inappropriate to talk publicly about some family matters” when asked about the drama earlier this week.
Rather, it was his interaction with his young wide receivers on which Rodgers was focused. Last month, Packers quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said he and Rodgers had spoken several times about Rodgers “working more closely with [the young receivers] on a one-on-one basis” and being “more of a big brother/coach type.”
Through three practices of training camp, that approach has been obvious to anyone observing workouts at Ray Nitschke Field. Intent on getting his still-Jordy Nelson-less receiving corps up to speed, Rodgers has been seen talking to his young wideouts after almost every series of snaps his No. 1 offense takes during 11-on-11 work.
While Packers head coach Mike McCarthy described Rodgers as coming in “the best shape I’ve seen him in,” and Van Pelt has liked the way Rodgers has thrown the ball so far, the quarterback's interpersonal skills have been just as impressive to the coaches.
“He’s a great leader, obviously. I think he’s looked very sharp in the first three practices and noticeably accurate. He’s made some tremendous throws,” Van Pelt said Friday as the players had their first day off from practice. “Working with the young receivers, he’s [been] great. He’ll go over after his set of reps and talk through it with them, especially with Jeff [Janis]. They’re getting a good relationship now, working together and talking about what they expect from each other. So that’s been very positive.”
Nelson, who sat out all of last season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in an Aug. 23 preseason game at Pittsburgh, opened training camp on the physically unable to perform list because of a “hiccup” he suffered in his left knee while working out in advance of camp. With Nelson out, the Packers’ three-receiver set with the No. 1 offense has consisted of sixth-year man Randall Cobb and two third-year receivers: Davante Adams and Janis.
With second-year receiver Ty Montgomery also on the PUP list after ankle surgery last season, Rodgers’ other wideouts are third-year man Jared Abbrederis; rookie fifth-round pick Trevor Davis; first-year receivers Ed Williams and Jamel Johnson, who were on the team’s practice squad as rookies last year; and undrafted rookie free agents Geronimo Allison and Herb Waters. Davis has made a strong early impression but has also been pulled aside for teachable moments by Rodgers.
Of that group, the receiver with perhaps the most to gain from more one-on-one time with Rodgers is Janis, who has had limited action on offense the past two years despite his tantalizing combination of athleticism and size. The Packers are hoping his huge performance in the team’s season-ending playoff loss to Arizona is a springboard to a greater role this season, and with Nelson out, Janis has been the beneficiary of the extra snaps with the starters.
Janis caught seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinals but has only four career regular-season receptions for 95 yards. Rodgers has shown frustration with Janis on the field in the past -- including on an interception at Oakland last December, and when the two were on different pages on an incompletion against the Cardinals -- but the fact that Van Pelt brought up the Rodgers-Janis dynamic unprompted Friday was worth noting.
“It’s like a marriage. He’s got to work through it,” Van Pelt said of Rodgers. “There’s going to be bumps in the road. The longer you’re together, the closer you become.”
New wide-receivers coach Luke Getsy emphasized Friday that because Rodgers is “the best in the business,” the young receivers “need to see [the game] through his eyes.” So far, Getsy has been pleased with the way Rodgers has reached out to his guys and the way they’ve received the instruction.
“The way he’s been able to communicate with those guys every single day, it’s just going to help them be more successful,” Getsy said. “They’re all sponges and trying to get as much information from a guy like that as they can.”
And Rodgers, in turn, is giving them as much as he can.
“There’s two different things. One is chemistry off the field, and the other is chemistry is on the field. They can go hand in hand once you’ve established it, but it takes time,” Rodgers explained. “You have to get to know the guys and how they respond to criticism and coaching and critiques on the field and the meeting room, and then get to know them off the field and what they like to do in their free time and spare time and know their personality.
“That’s what this game’s all about. It’s about the friendships you take with you. You look around the locker room -- I do as a 12th-year player -- and there’s not a lot of guys still around from even the last six or seven years. ... It starts to set in that you’re getting older in the league, and you have to try a little bit harder to get to know the guys and spend a little more time with them.”