It's almost hard to believe that Aaron Rodgers—one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL—could be challenged in the offseason.
This is a player that has a Super Bowl ring on his finger to prove he's achieved at professional football's highest level, even named the game's MVP and a year later, the league's MVP.
This is the time of year, during minicamp, when pads aren't allowed. How the heck can a quarterback face any pressure when he's wearing a red jersey and his receivers perceive no threat of being hit by that safety roaming the middle of the field?
But according to head coach Mike McCarthy, this spring has indeed challenged QB1, the face of the franchise.
"We changed a lot of things to make things easier for some of the other players, the younger players coming in on offense," said McCarthy. "I don't think a lot of people realize when you're in Year 10, particularly Year 9 of an offense, the biggest change was for Aaron.
"But it was the best thing for the group. So he had a little more studying to do this year probably than prior years. I think he's handled that very well."
Rodgers might argue that McCarthy is prone to exaggeration, but he didn't deny the work that's taking place on the football field and in the meeting rooms as the Packers quarterback gets used to the new-look personnel surrounding him.
"It's the same. It's just different guys," said Rodgers. "You look for ways to get to know your new teammates. You try and work on your timing in the spring, and you get yourself and your offense ready for training camp, because that's when the team really takes the physical shape that you're going to see during the season."
The change taking place around Rodgers isn't just coach-speak. While maybe there aren't any wholesale changes taking place, there are several modifications and alterations in both the offensive personnel and the scheme. It's happening at the skill positions and it's happening in the trenches.
It starts at the center position, where Rodgers will have his fourth exchange partner in four seasons. It's a streak that started with Scott Wells and extended to Jeff Saturday and Evan Dietrich-Smith.
This year's starter at center has yet to reveal himself, but it's likely the job will come down to either J.C. Tretter or rookie Corey Linsley. Either way, Rodgers will be working with a player that has yet to take a snap in the NFL, preseason included.
Rodgers will also be working with a new-look receiving corps. With so many new faces coming in this season, McCarthy has had no choice but to adapt the offseason program around the relatively inexperienced group.
"No one knows our offense better than Aaron Rodgers," said McCarthy. "He clearly understands why we make changes or adjustments, where we're emphasizing, because frankly he's driving this machine. It's not only better for the rest of the offense, it's obviously better for him too. He definitely welcomed all the adjustments."
Gone from last year are two heavily relied upon targets: James Jones, who left in free agency, and Jermichael Finley, at least for the time being.
In their stead, Rodgers will lean on the veterans at his disposal like Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin. But there's a reason the Packers selected three wide receivers in the NFL Draft and added two more talented tight ends.
When you have a talented quarterback like Rodgers leading your offense, you can never have enough similarly talented receiving threats.
Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis, Richard Rodgers and Colt Lyerla all bring something unique and different to the Packers offense. But for Rodgers, it'll take some getting used to each one of them.
Rodgers is grateful that his wide receivers have a very capable position coach to help them get up to speed.
"The demand is very high at all times from Edgar (Bennett) with that group," said Rodgers. "We've done a lot over the years with unproven guys, guys that had big seasons that weren't expected to have big seasons. I like the skill guys that we have."
Even the running game, which is expected to be effective in 2014, it's a change from last season.
The Packers may have had high hopes for Eddie Lacy a year ago, but by no means could they have expected with any certainty the type of season he'd provide.
Now that Lacy has proved himself at the NFL level, with the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award to show for it, they know the ground game will be a force to be reckoned with.
"I like more than ever, our running back situation," said Rodgers. "It's as deep a group as we've had in a long time. When you can have guys like Eddie and DuJuan and James running the football and some guys behind them to push those guys for spots, that's going to take a lot of pressure off the receiving corps. If you get one-on-one coverage in this league, you're expected to win that battle most of the time."
And so the offseason program that ends on Thursday in Green Bay has been modified.
By most indications, minicamp, OTAs, IPWs, all have gone rather smoothly for the Packers offense. Obviously no one will know for sure unti the pads come on during training camp. But so far, so good.
"Well, I'm healthy, and I think we're progressing as a team," said Rodgers. "The spring is about team chemistry. It's about seeing what the young guys can do. And it's about making sure you're in the right frame of mind, getting ready for training camp."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
Photo: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers stretches during minicamp by Benny Sieu—USA TODAY Sports.
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