The Favre era is over. Aaron Rodgers is the starting QB for the Packers. Tonight, he will play in his first real action as the starter of this team. Given that there will likely be at least a few series where both teams play their starters, this may be our first decent glimpse into the Rodgers-era and what may lie ahead. I won’t read too much into this game, but it does matter.
Following is a preview of Aaron Rodgers for 2008, and what I believe we can expect from him. (We will be offering other player previews throughout the pre-season).
ON THE PLUS SIDE
- As everyone knows, Rodgers looked very good against Dallas last year. He led an inspired effort to bring the team back into the game and showed heart doing it. He looked smart out there and made sure, nice passes. Smarts and heart may be 2 defining characteristics of Rodgers going forward.
- Rodgers has been well coached, he knows the offense very well and he is a bright guy. Mike McCarthy is very good with QBs and will help bring Rodgers along, I think, pretty quickly.
- Rodgers has a better arm that most think.
- I think we’ll see that his overall confidence level will help him to be a decisive passer, which is very important at this level.
- He has a very good team surrounding him.
- He has gone out of his way to make his teammates feel welcome in his home and at the same time, to make his teammates fully aware that he takes leadership seriously. Smart.
- One specific thing I think Rodgers may be quite good at is knowing when to throw the ball away. It is frustrating as a fan to watch, but it can often be the best decision a QB has. Rodgers already seems quite heady re decisions like this. If he’s truly good at this, we might see fewer interceptions from Rodgers than his predecessor.
- He wants to win. It was very evident during the Dallas game that he wanted to win. In a huge game, to be an unheralded back-up and have come in and play as the visiting team would unnerve most guys, but Rodgers not only was up for it, he appeared to be very singularly focused on winning the game.
- Rodgers has handled himself quite well (for the most part) through this whole sticky Favre situation. He said the right things, he didn’t come off as arrogant or clueless and he worked hard to keep focused on playing football.
- He has the support of management/coaching staff – clearly.
- He has spent valuable time learning from one of the best QBs to ever play the game.
- He’s gotten rid of the goofy facial hair experiments and Amish haircut, so he’s ready to just be himself out there and lead this team.
- I have some concerns about Rodgers injury history. Rodgers has had 2 significant injuries in his short career (significant enough to keep him off the field). He needs to play most of the games this season in order to shed that injury-prone label. Hopefully strength training in the off-season will help him to be stronger and better prepared for real NFL contact this year.
- While I really like Rodgers apparent ability to scramble and run to gain some yardage (something Favre simply seemed unwilling to do later in his career), I worry that these could be the kinds of situations that lead to injury. In the Dallas game, Rodgers got licked on a tackle (in a Philip Epps-like way) at one point – almost seemed like he was sort of out of control and not sure where the guy came from.
- One thing I think we’ll find is that as good as Rodgers may be at scrambling, he may not be quite as good as Brett and other veterans at avoiding pressure. Scrambling and avoiding pressure aren’t necessarily the same thing (i.e. Favre was bad at scrambling but great at avoiding pressure). So we may see a few more sacks of Rodgers than we’re used to seeing.
- Mike and Mike (ESPN Radio) were saying this morning they think Rodgers has more pressure on him than any other athlete in recent sports history. Lots and lots of pressure.
- As well as he handled himself until now, Rodgers did have a major gaffe that was fortunately for him, concealed by Favre’s story exploding the very next day. In a Sports Illustrated article a few months ago, Rodgers said, “I don’t feel I need to sell myself to fans. They need to get on board now or keep their mouths shut.” This was a mistake by Rodgers, even if he was genuinely feeling this way or just frustrated. You never offer up that Packer fans should “keep their mouths shut”. I’m willing, however, to chalk this up as a “rookie” mistake…unless or until something similar happens again.
- I’ll write this again at the risk of your collective wrath, but I still worry Rodgers may have a whiny quality. I know when I made this comment last year, it was unpopular, but I’ve seen some early indications of this. I very well could be wrong and hope I am because I think this is behavior that can be divisive (especially if done by a young QB). Sometimes, this just comes with players who really really really want to win (Marino, Manning). And that’s not a bad thing. But my hope is that McCarthy will help Rodgers install a mental mechanism of some kind to shut down any instinct to call out his teammates in a public way.
FINAL PREVIEW VERDICT:
I think Rodgers can be very good if he plays within himself and remembers that this growth process can be somewhat gradual, that it doesn’t have to happen over night. He can definitely try to make plays, but sometimes when there is pressure like there is on him now, the tendency can be to try too hard. I expect a bit of this very early on as he attempts to assert himself as the starter – with mixed results. But after just a few games, with McCarthy’s help, I expect that he’ll settle in and develop his own distinct playing style, and learn to more effectively play within himself. While I don’t want Rodgers to play scared, I do want him to be extra smart when he scrambles. Rodgers ability and willingness to do this opens up a whole new offensive option, especially for plays that break down. I expect Rodgers to throw fewer picks than Favre and other first-year starters, but possibly get sacked more often. I believe he may have some fumbling issues earlier on until he gets used to handling the speed and pressure of the live game. Then after the first 1/3 of the season or so, it won’t be a problem. I expect James Jones to be more active in the offense, Driver to be a bit less active, Jennings to continue his progress and the tight ends to be a bigger part of McCarthy’s offensive plans this year. But one of the most important factors this year will be how Rodgers bounces back from a poor performance, especially one in which he may have contributed heavily to a loss. My guess is that he may have several rough games this year, but he will bounce back nicely. I also expect Rodgers to be a tough player on the road. Overall, I expect a better than average performance from Rodgers, but I am not expecting a totally polished product just yet.