For the first 12 years of his NFL career, Jeff Saturday built a bond with Peyton Manning––Pro Bowl center to Pro Bowl quarterback for many of them.
The center-quarterback relationship is a close one, especially when you’re durable and you played in as many games as Saturday and Manning did together in Indianapolis with the Colts from 1999 to 2010. Only in rare instances did Saturday not snap the ball and Manning not receive it for those dozen seasons.
Saturday got to know the makeup of a future Hall of Fame quarterback very intimately, and already in his limited time in Green Bay, he sees similarities between Manning and his new exchange partner, Aaron Rodgers.
“The thing that probably impressed me the most about Aaron when I first got here was he knows all the offensive line checks, he knows where to put us, why we’re going there,” said Saturday on Tuesday following the first public Organized Team Activity (OTA) practice of 2012. “That’s important for a quarterback to know where every piece fits, and you feel comfortable that as long as we’re on the same page, no matter what the call is, as long as we’re all doing it the same way, we can block it up and he can make plays down the field.
“That was the same way with Peyton. As long as we all knew who was responsible for who, we could move the ball up and down the field. So they’re very comparable in that way.”
It didn’t take long for Saturday to form an opinion about Rodgers considering this week was the first week of OTAs in Green Bay.
Saturday just signed with the Packers as a free agent in late March and has only been taking part in their offseason program since mid-April. In fact, it wasn’t until Phase Two of the NFL’s offseason calendar began on April 30 that the offense could even practice together as a unit by rule.
In his transition from Indianpolis to Green Bay, Saturday is going from working with one of the best quarterbacks of his generation to one who’s at the peak of his career.
Following the previous year’s Super Bowl and last year’s MVP season, Rodgers is already considered one of the best quarterbacks in professional football and could join the ranks of Manning as one of the best all-time if his career continues on the same trajectory it began.
But in the present, it’s all about Rodgers and Saturday attempting to bring the Packers back to the promised land, get them back to the Super Bowl where they were during the 2010 season. Saturday will be replacing Scott Wells who left via free agency to sign with the St. Louis Rams this offseason.
And as of late May, it’s beginning with indoctrinating Saturday into the Green Bay offense, its schemes and verbiage––not an easy task considering the differences between the offenses of the Colts and the Packers.
“There’s nothing transferable,” said Saturday. “I tell them all the time, my calls were either exactly opposite… but there’s nothing.
“You can’t bring anything from one of the offenses to the other. Everything I’m learning is brand new. It’s a great offense. Both offenses I played on produced numbers, Super Bowls and everything else you want. I’m glad to be a part of it. I feel like I’m learning. It will take me a few days, and hopefully I get it under my belt.”
Just because the offenses are different, however, doesn’t mean Saturday can’t lend experience and a kinesthetic feel for the center position in Green Bay.
One of the reasons the Packers signed Saturday was his ability to help direct a no-huddle, hurry-up offense, something he and Manning did with aplomb.
Rodgers, when asked whether that brings him peace of mind, replied, “It does, especially as much up-tempo stuff as Indianapolis did during his time there, it’s going to transition very well to some of the stuff that we’re going to do here. Jeff’s really smart, knows the game really well, knows his strengths and limitations, and I’m excited to have him.”
It took time for Saturday and Manning to build a rapport, for them to bring Indianapolis a Super Bowl title during the 2006 season. Saturday and Rodgers, meanwhile, won’t have the luxury of time if they’re going to win a Super Bowl.
Entering his 14th season in the NFL at 36 years of age, Saturday signed only a two-year contract with Green Bay and hasn’t committed to fulfilling both years.
Seeing as the center is entering the twilight of his career and the window is closing if the team is going to win another Vince Lombardi Trophy under his watch, Saturday and Rodgers realistically only have weeks, not years, to get on the same page.
But Rodgers isn’t worried.
“He’s doing good,” said Rodgers. “It’s going to take a little time, I think, to get used to the cadence variations and some of the little things we do, but he’s going to be fine.”