GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers hasn’t seen his team in person; no one has given the OK yet. The NFL is in a virtual offseason program as it deals with the coronavirus pandemic. The only thing the Green Bay Packers quarterback can compare this offseason to is the lockout during the 2011 labor dispute.
The Packers came out of that just fine. At the time, they faced criticism for not holding any player-led practices or workouts away from the team facility. But Rodgers & Co. stormed out of the gate and ran off a 15-1 regular season.
And that was without an online offseason program like they have now.
“We managed it in 2011 and I think with these Zoom meetings and the installs we’ve been doing, I think we’re going to be ready to go whenever that time comes,” Rodgers said during a conference call with reporters Friday. “But it will be an accelerated learning curve for especially those young guys who are expected to play.”
That’s where the receiver position comes in.
What was perceived by analysts and observers on the outside as the Packers’ biggest need coming off a surprising 13-3 season, went ignored in the draft. The only addition to the position group was veteran free agent Devin Funchess, who missed 15 1/2 games last season because of a broken collarbone.
Rodgers admitted last week he wasn’t thrilled with the decision to pick quarterback Jordan Love in the first round, but when asked whether that was because general manager Brian Gutekunst picked a potential heir or because they failed to address the receiver group, Rodgers went with the former.
“I like where we’re at,” Rodgers said. “Obviously what we accomplished last year was pretty amazing. You know, the additions that we brought in and then having a first-year head coach with a new system, I liked our progression throughout the season. Obviously we had a lot of success, won a lot of close games. I like where we’re at, and you know, as always, we’re going to be expecting those young players whether they’re rookies or second- or third-year guys to make that jump, and we’re going to be calling on them to play an even bigger role for us.
“Obviously you had some changes with a few positions. But I like what Brian has done. Obviously I hope there’s a season and hope we get a chance to get back together soon and start working on that chemistry and get excited about the season.”
In fact, Rodgers heaped praise on the young collection behind his No. 1 target Davante Adams. Tops on that list was Allen Lazard, the former undrafted free agent who didn’t make the roster last year coming out of training camp but by season’s end was No. 2 behind Adams.
“By the end of the season, he was called upon many, many times in important situations to make big plays and he did,” Rodgers said. “He’s just a great teammate, and ascending player, loved his approach every week and he made some big-time plays for us.”
Then Rodgers went down the list: from Equanimeous St. Brown, who spent all of last season on injured reserve (ankle); to Marquez Valdes-Scantling (who faded last season), to fan favorite Jake Kumerow; to Funchess.
Perhaps there's a wild card in the group: Reggie Begelton, an intriguing prospect signed out of the CFL in January.
“The one thing that really stands out is you can tell he is super invested,” coach Matt LaFleur said of Begelton. “He’s done a great job at picking up everything that we’ve thrown at him. He does a great job. We’ve been quizzing these guys quite a bit, and he is repeatedly at the top. I’ve been just super impressed with his approach and just excited to see him and see what he’s got to offer on the field.”
This was supposed to be an offseason in which LaFleur and Rodgers delved deeper into the second-year coach’s system. Both parties and Gutekunst mentioned several times since the NFC Championship Game loss to the 49ers that there was more to the offense than LaFleur was able to implement last year in his rookie season.
It remains to be seen whether the virtual offseason will hinder that.
“It’s been great having these Zoom meetings," LaFleur said. "It’s allowed myself, [offensive coordinator Nathaniel] Hackett, [passing game coordinator Luke] Getsy and Aaron to have a lot of one-on-ones, which we definitely value [Rodgers'] input into what we’re doing because we definitely want him to feel comfortable with whatever it is we’re asking him to do.”