Packers: Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers returns to work in good shape, great spirits

April 19, 2017

GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers tried. He made his all-in, we-need-to-reload plea in the wake of last January’s NFC Championship Game butt-kicking, and that was that. If the Green Bay Packers quarterback’s words were going to have an impact on the team’s offseason personnel approach, great. If not, he’d said his peace.

After that, Rodgers applied one of his favorite Mike McCarthy-isms — “Control the controllables” — and focused on making sure he returned to work Tuesday for the first day of their offseason program in the best shape of his career. And on that front, it was mission accomplished.

So whether the Packers’ roster moves so far this offseason — adding tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, cornerback Davon House and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, but re-signing only linebacker Nick Perry while losing seven of their own free agents — constitute the “reloading” Rodgers sought, it’s hard to say.

But there’s no doubt that the 33-year-old two-time NFL MVP was in great shape (“under 220” pounds, he said) and feeling good — thanks to his increasingly stringent diet and drastic reduction in rounds of offseason golf — to start his 13th NFL season and 10th as the Packers’ starting QB.

“I feel great. I put a lot of work in this offseason,” Rodgers told a group of reporters during a press availability for the first day of workouts. “As much as I love golf, it’s kind of taken a backseat to my workouts, and I’m light as I’ve been I think ever coming back at this time of the year. Being under 220 was kind of a goal for me. I hit that goal to start, and now it’s continuing to build my body.

“I feel really good. My knees feel great, my arm feels really good. And it’s fun to be 33 and feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve been in starting an offseason program. So that’s exciting.”

Meanwhile, Rodgers deftly sidestepped a question about whether general manager Ted Thompson heeded his advice and went “all-in” with his four offseason signings, considering the team allowed a number of veterans — including Pro Bowl right guard T.J. Lang, No. 1 running back Eddie Lacy, versatile defensive back Micah Hyde and pass-rusher Julius Peppers — leave as free agents.

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“I mean, it’s Day 1,” Rodgers replied when asked if he thought Thompson had reloaded. “We’re going to wait and see how everybody looks moving forward. But I like the pieces we’ve put in.

“Davon’s played a lot of football in the league and played at a high level. I got to see Ricky in there, I’ve been playing against him for a number of years now and have a lot of respect for him and his game. And obviously the two tight ends are good additions.

“I like our squad. It’s just going to be about building that cohesion and chemistry in the locker room and on the field. We’ve got to make some leaps and bounds this offseason and obviously into training camp. But I feel like we’re going to be really tough to stop on offense.”

That’s largely thanks to Rodgers, who finished the season on perhaps the best run of his career, completing 69.7 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and no interceptions (120.0 rating) during the Packers’ final seven regular-season games, including a six-game winning streak to close the season and secure the club’s eighth straight playoff berth.

In an effort to continue playing at that level and to extend his career into his 40s, Rodgers has adopted a more regimented diet — one that eliminated dairy and is increasingly plant-based — in addition to his evolving workouts. Teammate Jordy Nelson said the results were obvious.

“The way he’s taken care of his body, the way he prepares each week, the way he performs — when you have your top guys (acting) that way, everyone else is trying to get on that level,” Nelson said. “Obviously, he understands — I think all of us do as we get older — that the little things matter. It’s what you eat, what you drink, what you do — all that stuff.

“Everyone wants to be in this game as long as possible. You don’t know when it will be. Some of us older guys are getting to that situation. Everyone is trying to get to that point to where they can prolong it as long as possible — not just prolong it to be in the league but still perform at a very high level. It’s great to see. I talked to him the other day about it and he said he feels great. We’re all trying to get to that level.”

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On Tuesday, Rodgers was simply trying to get acclimated to being back in the Midwest after spending his offseason in southern California and last weekend in New York for teammate Randall Cobb’s wedding.

“It’s going to take a little bit as I get readjusted to the Central time zone,” he joked.

It’ll also take a little bit for him to adjust to a new team, one that’ll add more players in the April 27-29 NFL Draft but will be without some familiar faces — a yearly occurrence for Rodgers, the team’s longest-tenured player.

“Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of additions over the next month to the team, but it’s fun meeting the (new) guys. It’s also a little difficult,” Rodgers said. “You get older in the league and every time you step in the locker room there’s a few guys missing.

“I talked to T.J. this morning. Not having him in there is different, it’s definitely a big change. I saw over the weekend at Randall’s wedding some former teammates: Micah Hyde, James Jones and Casey Hayward. It’s always good seeing those guys, but it’s different when they’re not in the locker room all the time. That’s kind of the deal as you get older in the league.”

Extra points

McCarthy was not in attendance for the first day of the offseason workouts because he was in Pittsburgh for the funeral of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who died last week. McCarthy, team president Mark Murphy and several other staffers attended the funeral. … Rodgers said he and Bennett has been corresponding via text message on an almost daily basis since his signing. “We’ve basically been texting since the first time we had a phone conversation when he signed and texting a lot in the meantime,” Rodgers said. “He’s a really interesting guy, has a lot of interests outside of football, and we’ve had some great conversations.” … Rodgers said he doesn’t think the team needs to draft Lang’s replacement at guard with its first-round pick at No. 29 and endorsed veteran Don Barclay as the replacement, with Lucas Patrick and Kyle Murphy competing with him. “We’re going to need to figure out who that guy is in time, but give them opportunities to gel together,” Rodgers said. ... Where does linebacker Clay Matthews expect to line up this year? “I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up playing all over the defense,” he said Tuesday. … A.J. Hawk, whose nine-year career with the Packers ended with him atop the team’s all-time tackles list (1,118), signed a ceremonial contract to retire as a Packer Tuesday. Hawk, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, was released following the 2014 season, spent 2015 with the Cincinnati Bengals and was briefly on the Atlanta Falcons’ roster last season.