GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers ducked under center on the first play of the first practice at Green Bay Packers’ training camp this summer. As routine as it was for Rodgers, it was all new for rookie Josh Myers.
The two had never worked together, given that Rodgers skipped the entire offseason program while he contemplated his future.
The result was forgettable.
Ball, meet ground.
For a second or two, everyone stood still and waited to see how Rodgers would react. But there was no blowup.
That would come weeks later.
“It’s funny, I jumped the gun a little bit early on the first play of the first practice,” Myers recalled. “I was just a hair early, and we had a conversation about that and how his cadences can be a little different.”
Rodgers hasn’t had a rookie center start since 2014, when Corey Linsley was thrown into the job late in training camp after presumptive starter JC Tretter sustained a knee injury. Rodgers and Linsley went into the season opener at one of the loudest environments in the NFL, in Seattle, without ever having taken a game snap together in the preseason.
“It’s not something that we haven’t demanded out of guys in his position before,” Rodgers said recently. “Corey Linsley did that -- started, played against Seattle his first game and lined up against Michael Bennett for most of the game.
“[Myers is] capable of it.”
The Packers hope Myers takes hold as quickly -- and for as long -- as his predecessor. Linsley never gave up the job and started 99 of a possible 112 games over the next seven years, culminating in last season’s selection as a first-team All-Pro. It was perfect timing for Linsley, who was heading into free agency. He signed a five-year, $62.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers that made him the highest paid center in the game.
The Packers believe they found Linsley 2.0.
Both went to Ohio State, where Myers said he studied Linsley’s college tape and then picked Linsley’s brain about the NFL in the weeks leading up to the draft.
While Linsley was a fifth-round pick, Myers went in the second. There are other differences, too. Linsley was more the prototype center at a stout 6-foot-3 and 301 pounds, while Myers is a more towering 6-5 and 310.
Trust is not easily attained
Despite the opening-practice gaffe, Rodgers spent the early portion of camp propping up Myers, who admitted he wasn’t quite sure how to gain his quarterback’s trust.
“I would imagine that trust is not something that's easily attained,” Myers said. “But I think through consistency and just proving myself day in and day out -- and that's not just physically, that's every bit as much of a mental aspect of the game, too.”
Rodgers took notice.
On Aug. 4, a week into training camp, Rodgers called Myers “a pleasant surprise” while also admitting he was harder on Linsley early on but has mellowed with age.
“If Josh talked to Corey and Corey was like, ‘Hey, what’s 12 like? Is he kind of ripping your ass and getting on you a little bit?’ Josh would maybe describe me as a kinder, gentler quarterback at this stage,” Rodgers said.
But the kinder, gentler approach didn’t last forever.
On Aug. 18, during the first of two joint practices with the New York Jets, Myers struggled with the speed and uncertainty that came with facing an unfamiliar defense.
Afterward, Rodgers said: “I’m not going to say any more nice things about Josh. I don’t want it to go to his head, and Corey again is telling me I’m being way too soft on him. He had a rough day today. This is a good learning experience for him.”
Then, on Aug. 26, during the final practice of training camp, Myers committed one of the ultimate sins: He didn’t snap the ball after Rodgers got the defense to jump across the line. Had Myers snapped it, Rodgers would’ve had one of his trademark free plays.
But when Myers failed to launch the shotgun snap, Rodgers screamed out: “Snap the f---ing ball!”
Afterward, Rodgers said: “I was very gentle and patient early in camp, and there has to be a switch because we’re getting a little closer. It’s important that he feels the urgency in my demeanor moving forward, especially with potentially a young person playing next to him. We need him to play more like a veteran and not like a rookie.
“What happened today was a conversation that we had one time, and the situation came up and he didn’t respond how we talked about. But I would guess, knowing him a little bit now, that that’ll be his one-time mistake on that. You need plays like that. I’m not mad about that. I’m frustrated he didn’t snap it at the moment, but I’m not ultimately mad. I’m way happier it happened in practice than down in New Orleans.”
Myers took it in stride.
“[Myers has] got a lot on his plate, and he’s handling it very well,” Packers offensive line coach Adam Stenavich said. “I can only imagine putting all that stuff on a guy like me if I was playing. I’d be like, ‘Oh, what the hell?’
“No, he’s doing a great job. Sometimes, you’ve just got to say, ‘Hey, man, learn from this, and you’ll be just fine.’”
"He's been awesome since the day he got here." Packers quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy
on Josh Myers
Myers won’t have to deal with the noise in the Saints’ dome now that the Week 1 game was moved from New Orleans to Jacksonville (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox) in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
The offensive line might be the only question mark for a Packers’ offense that led the NFL in scoring last season. All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari will miss at least the first six weeks of the season while his ACL rehab continues, meaning the line will be without two All-Pros -- Linsley being the other -- from last season.
What’s more, Myers won’t be the only rookie. Fourth-round pick Royce Newman won the starting right guard job, meaning the Packers will have two rookie linemen starting a season opener for the first time since 2006. That season, third-round pick Jason Spitz opened at left guard and fifth-round pick Tony Moll was at right tackle.
But Myers will be the only one charged with getting the reigning NFL MVP the ball on time, every time.
“Corey, he didn’t even blink [when he started as a rookie],” said Packers quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy, the only member of the Packers’ coaching staff who was around for Linsley’s debut in 2014. “And Josh has a lot of that in him.
“He’s been awesome since the day he got here.”