2013 June : Packers Insider

Stronger and healthier Manning looks to secure top reserve linebacker spot for the Packers in 2013

June 30, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Worldwide Weston Hodkiewicz, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~GREEN BAY – Mornings always were the most difficult part of Terrell Manning’s day during training camp last summer.

The constant aches, churning stomach and bouts with insomnia all paled in comparison to when the Green Bay Packers’ rookie inside linebacker needed to pry himself out of bed each day and back onto the practice field.

For months an undiagnosed parasite wreaked havoc on Manning’s body, robbing him of his energy and nearly 20 pounds from his 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame.

Often undernourished and deprived of sleep, Manning didn’t say a word all while skeptics pondered if he had a future with the Packers after the team surrendered three picks to take him in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft.

It finally got to a point Manning couldn’t take anymore. Early one morning last August, he finally admitted himself to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with colitis, an inflammation of his colon due to the parasite.

With the regular season drawing near, the damage to his chances of being a significant contributor was largely done. But the Packers stuck by him and eventually his potential began to show.

“Every day I had to fight,” Manning said. “Every day I had to fight to get up out of that bed without enough sleep and still go out and practice, and stay focused in meetings after practice, and go out and do it again for the whole duration of camp.”

Terrell Manning

In those quiet weeks of agony, Manning learned a valuable lesson in determination. While his body withered to 218 pounds, Manning’s mind grew stronger. As his health improved, so did his contribution.

Manning, 23, never played a down of defense in 2012, but slowly developed a niche on special teams. Active for only five regular-season games, Manning played 39 of his 83 total snaps in the Packers’ two playoff games while established veterans D.J. Williams and Frank Zombo sat as healthy scratches.

Now in his second year with a full offseason of weight training, Manning is hoping his luck changes along with his physique in 2013.

Back to a healthy and muscular 235 pounds, Manning spent his offseason at Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix. There he worked out three times a day at exercises tailor-made for him — a much-different program than the one Manning was on midway through last season when he was just throwing on whatever weight he could.

“I would say I never really got to where I wanted to be because the weight I was putting on … it wasn’t really the best weight,” Manning said. “So I didn’t look any bigger. When I stepped onto the scale, it wasn’t good weight — it was fat to be honest with you. This offseason, I dedicated a lot to correctional movements and trying to get my weight back and muscle instead of fat. It was hard.”

After not feeling 100 percent at really any point last season, Manning has flashed the natural instincts and athleticism during this year’s offseason program that inspired the Packers to trade up and take him 163rd overall in last year’s draft.

Terrell Manning

Now, he’s in the conversation for the top reserve spot at inside linebacker behind A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, especially after Monday’s release of veteran linebacker Desmond Bishop.

In their decision to part ways with both Bishop and undersized third-year linebacker D.J. Smith this offseason, the Packers made a commitment to not only Hawk and Jones, but the inexperienced reserves behind them.

For the most part, it’s an unproven group with Manning, special-team standouts Jamari Lattimore and Robert Francois, and seventh-round rookie Sam Barrington the leading candidates. The three returning players combined for 800 snaps last season, but only eight of those came on defense.

That’s typically the way the Packers have conducted their business in recent years. Aside from Hawk, a fifth-overall selection in 2006, the team has primarily forged its inside linebackers through late-round and undrafted projections.

They did it with Bishop, a sixth-round pick in 2007 who blossomed into the team’s leading tackler in 2011, and they hope to do the same with Manning.

“You’re starting to see some of the assets that we saw in him coming out of college and he’s been able to display (those),” Packers inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said. “He’s been a good run player. He’s done some good stuff on the blitz, he’s athletic, he can run, so he’s going to continue that progress of just growing.

“It’s going to be great to see him get into the pads in training camp and really see him against a different opponent rather than our offense. So I’m excited for that. Hopefully, he just continues upward and onward.”

The competition figures to be fierce in training camp at the position, but that’s far from Manning’s focus.

Right now, Manning wants to prove there’s more to him than the small sample size that was his rookie season, littered with illness, sleepless nights and forgettable practices.

After everything he’s been through, Manning really just wants to play football again.

“Everything to me is all about me. Obviously, I look to learn from those guys, but I really don’t take anybody as a threat.

“I say that not to offend anyone, by any means. It’s just that right now the system I’m in is all about focusing on me and executing my responsibility and learning every day. From there, I think the coaches will see I can also play just as well as these other guys, too.”

Full story here

Packers training camp kicks off July 26th

June 30, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin

~GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers will open their eighth training camp under head coach Mike McCarthy on Friday, July 26 with a morning practice that will kick off at 8:20 a.m. at Ray Nitschke Field, the first of 19 open-to-the-public practices the team has scheduled this summer.

The 8:20 a.m. practice is the first of nine morning workouts, with more morning practices following on July 27, 28, 30, 31 and Aug. 1, 6, 7 and 8.

The morning practices are a departure from McCarthy’s previous 2-1-2 schedule in which the team would frequently practice at night.

Speaking at the NFC coaches breakfast at the annual NFL Meetings in March, McCarthy said he planned to alter the camp schedule, going away from the schedule he implemented when he arrived in 2006.

“The preliminary training camp format I have on the board is less night practices, more morning practices and we’re going to change some things,” McCarthy said. “You don’t ever stay the same.”

While McCarthy joked about some of the causes – “I’m sure the ice cream at St. Norbert didn’t help, (or) the late night pizza,” he said – McCarthy acknowledged that players had trouble winding down after night practices. That’s one of the reasons why, when the players complained about the night practices two years ago, McCarthy reduced the number of nighttime workouts.

Last year, McCarthy basically broke up training camp into three sections, doing some morning practices, then some nighttime practices, then afternoon workouts before going to his in-season schedule. He had fewer night practices last year than in 2011, joking in camp last year that he was only holding them out of “Catholic guilt” for making the team buy field lights. The Packers do have their annual Family Night Scrimmage inside Lambeau Field.

“We’re looking at everything involved. We all know how important sleep is,” McCarthy said. “There’s more and more sleep studies that we’re looking at, sleeping patterns, the pattern of how the body functions in the morning and afternoon, evening. There’s benefits to night practices; there’s benefits to morning practices. But you really have to look at the whole picture.

“It will be different than last year.”

McCarthy also felt that the schedule led to some injuries sustained in camp and acknowledged he pushed his guys too hard at times – even though some have criticized him for having “soft” camps.

“Just think about what kind of body clock you’re putting your team on for a long period of time. Where is the transition point from training camp to an in-season schedule? Those are the things we have to take a hard look at,” McCarthy said. “Do you go to it early? We went to an in-season schedule the last two weeks of training camp. I felt good about the transition part. The thing we were stressed as a football team was right in the middle of training camp. We had some fatigue injuries show up, we did some more no huddle, more running, more stress. So you look at everything and be critical of yourself, be honest with yourself.”

The team’s first – and, only – night practice will be on Aug. 2 at 7 p.m., with the annual Family Night Scrimmage the following night at Lambeau Field. It is the lone night practice of camp. The Family Night Scrimmage at Lambeau Field on Aug. 3 will open at 5:30 p.m., with football drills set for 6:30 and the scrimmage at 7:30, weather permitting.

After the team’s preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field on Aug. 9, the team will shift into a variation of its regular-season schedule with 11:15 a.m. practices on Aug. 13 and 14 and an 11 a.m. practice on Aug. 15 in advance of the Packers’ Aug. 17 preseason road game at St. Louis.

The Packers will then hold three practices (11:30 a.m. on Aug. 19, 11:15 a.m. on Aug. 20, 11 a.m. on Aug. 21) before facing the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field on Aug. 23. The team will wrap up training camp with an 11:30 practice on Aug. 25, an 11:15 practice on Aug. 26 and an 11 a.m. practice on Aug. 27 before the preseason finale at Kansas City on Aug. 29.

Should inclement weather or any other factor force the team indoors, practices will be closed to the public due to space limitations inside the Don Hutson Center. Please also note that all practice dates, times and dress are subject to change.

Players are set to report on Thursday, July 25. McCarthy will hold his annual pre-training camp press conference that day as well.
Friday, July 26 SHELLS 8:20 a.m.
Saturday, July 27 SHELLS 8:20 a.m.
Sunday, July 28 FULL PADS 8:20 a.m.
Monday, July 29 NO PRACTICE
Tuesday, July 30 FULL PADS 8:20 a.m.
Wednesday, July 31 FULL PADS 8:20 a.m.
Thursday, August 1 FULL PADS 8:20 a.m.
Friday, August 2 FULL PADS 7 p.m.
Saturday, August 3 FAMILY NIGHT 6:30 p.m.

Sunday, August 4 NO PRACTICE
Monday, August 5 NO PUBLIC PRACTICE
Tuesday, August 6 FULL PADS 8:20 a.m.
Wednesday, August 7 FULL PADS 8:20 a.m.
Thursday, August 8 FULL PADS 8:20 a.m.
Friday, August 9 Preseason game vs. ARIZONA

Saturday, August 10 NO PRACTICE
Sunday, August 11 NO PRACTICE
Monday, August 12 NO PUBLIC PRACTICE
Tuesday, August 13 FULL PADS 11:15 a.m.
Wednesday, August 14 FULL PADS 11:15 a.m.
Thursday, August 15 HELMETS 11 a.m.
Friday, August 16 NO PRACTICE
Saturday, August 17 Preseason game at St. Louis

Sunday, August 18 NO PRACTICE
Monday, August 19 SHELLS 11:30 a.m.
Tuesday, August 20 FULL PADS 11:15 a.m.
Wednesday, August 21 FULL PADS 11 a.m.
Thursday, August 22 NO PRACTICE
Friday, August 23 Preseason game vs. SEATTLE

Saturday, August 24 NO PRACTICE
Sunday, August 25 SHELLS 11:30 a.m.
Monday, August 26 FULL PADS 11:15 a.m.
Tuesday, August 27 FULL PADS 11 a.m.
Wednesday, August 28 NO PRACTICE
Thursday, August 29 Preseason game at Kansas City

ALL PRACTICES CLOSED TO PUBLIC FOR REMAINDER OF SEASON

Aaron Rodgers Q&A: ‘It’s really fun right now’

June 18, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin

(Jason takes some time away from tweeting to Packer fans about his personal life regarding his family, and gets in his weekly interview with Aaron Rodgers)

~GREEN BAY – The first words out of his mouth are either a threat or a warning. It’s hard to tell.

“I’m going to go into really boring mode,” Aaron Rodgers says as he plunges back into a leather chair.

The offseason program is almost over, and the Green Bay Packers quarterback, having done the media rounds during organized team activities and minicamp, has heard enough Qs and delivered enough As. California beckons, and he’s one day away from getting on – as former Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman once so eloquently put it – the first thing smokin’ home.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 04: (L-R) Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants congratulates Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers after the Packers won 38-35 at MetLife Stadium on December 4, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

But he’s got one more interview to do, and in it, he will talk about three recent newsmakers (who also happen to be friends of his, to varying degrees), life as the NFL’s highest-paid player (and the expectations that come with it), being the longest-tenured player in the Packers locker room (at the ripe old age of 29), the talent that surrounds him on offense (from the reconfigured line to what’s left of his receiving corps), his current motivation (which goes way beyond the infamous chip on his shoulder) and even his current favorite TV show (and the danger of Tweeting a season finale spoiler to 969,000 people).

Rodgers spent 40 minutes in the green room adjacent to the Lambeau Field media auditorium last week talking about those topics and others. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
Q: You were unwavering in your support of your friend Ryan Braun amid reports of his alleged performance-enhancing drug use a few years ago. What did you think when ESPN’s Outside The Lines recently reported that baseball is looking to suspend him 100 games for his link to Biogenesis?
Rodgers: Ryan’s a good friend and I care about him a lot as a person. He’s a great person, and I stand with my friend.

Q: Have you reached out to him after this last story broke?
Rodgers: Yeah. We talk all the time. We’re good friends, and obviously we have our restaurant together, and get to spend some time together during the year – whether he’s coming up here to a game, which doesn’t happen a whole lot, or I’m going down there. We see each other at various events, and we definitely keep in touch all year and speak regularly.

Q: Greg Jennings, your former teammate who’s now in Minnesota, recently referred to you in an interview as “the guy they have there now.” At the Wisconsin Sports Awards, you joked “Who?” when his name came up. Is there some animosity there? How did you take what he said?
Rodgers: I think sometimes, as I’ve found out, humor doesn’t always come through a text message or a Tweet or an interview at times. I think it’s hard, unless somebody puts a note in there about it being said in a joking way, it’s hard to have humor come through a story. I have a lot of respect for Greg, and we had a lot of great times together, made a lot of plays. He had three really huge catches in the Super Bowl and a lot of wins here. So I know there’s a lot of mutual respect and I don’t take an umbrage from anything he said.

Q: Brett Favre has made a lot of news lately, and you’ve talked a lot about it. Why did you decide to get involved in this? What was your thought process in not only doing the NFL Honors presentation but now continuing to be somewhat at the forefront, or being the catalyst, of this reconciliation?
Rodgers: Well first, I don’t want to be at the forefront of this. I really don’t think that’s my place. It’s the organization and Brett and retiring his number, bringing him back into the family … I just felt like I had the opportunity to bury anything that people thought had been between Brett and I. And it was an opportunity to see Brett, to talk, to reconnect beforehand and then to do something very public that was kind of making light of the situation in an atmosphere where many people, when we were announced together, probably were very surprised that one, we were on stage together, and two, that we both agreed to do it. So that was good, I think. The joke, it was almost an inside joke between Brett and I. The awkward comment was off the top of my head; it wasn’t contrived. But I think it was making light of the fact that getting to talk to him, we had patched things up, if anything needed to be patched up. I think it could and can set the tone and set things in motion for the organization and the fans – and Brett – being able to move forward. I think as the face of the franchise, it was important for me to show that I was ready to move on, and hopefully everyone else can as well.

Q: You were the one caught in the middle, though, during the summer of 2008. And we have to be careful about revisionist history here, in terms of your relationship with him when you were his backup. Did you need to hear something from him – “I’m sorry that I put you through that, that wasn’t fair to you,” something to that effect? And did you get it?
Rodgers: Well, the stuff that we talked about I’m going to keep between Brett and I. But I think that we’ve all just moved past it. We’re 4 1/2 years on the other side of that. A lot has changed around here, obviously. We’ve been able to have success as a team, I’ve been able to have some success individually. I’m very, very secure with the stuff we’ve accomplished here. And proud of it. And I’m able to give the respect that Brett deserves for the many years that he played at a high level here and what he accomplished here. This league is a league that doesn’t wait around for people. It’s a tough league; guys are here one day and gone the next. I’ve seen a lot of friends go on to different teams or go on to a different profession. And change is a constant in our business. We made a change four years ago, five years ago, but Brett had an incredible career here. It’s time to bring him back and retire his number here before he goes into Canton.

Q: Let’s talk about your contract. What does $110 million mean, exactly? We throw these numbers around with professional athletes’ contracts, but for normal people trying to pay their mortgage and put their kids through college, that kind of money unfathomable. Does it blow you away?
Rodgers: Yes, it’s humbling and silly at times to think about it. But money doesn’t change people, I don’t think. I think it highlights characteristics in your personality that maybe weren’t so visible when you didn’t have as much. So I’ve tried to remember that and stay true to who I am as a person and as a teammate. The guys have been great. There’s jokes every now and then, but I’m trying to be the same person in the locker room that I was when I was a backup and working on the scout team. It gives you an extra responsibility that you take care of the people that are important to you and realize that you have an opportunity to make an even bigger difference in your community and in your world.

Q: So you’re saying that money can bring out the worst in people?
Rodgers: Yes. It highlights those things that, if you’re a stingy person or kind of a jerk but you couldn’t be when you didn’t have a lot and you were trying to work your way up the ladder of success as defined by our culture, when you get near the top of the ladder, then you have the opportunity to be that jerk if you want. And that’s why I try to keep people around me who aren’t just yes-men and yes-women. They’re going to tell me how it is all the time, and I rely on them to keep me in line.

Q: So is your greater concern then not how it might change you, but that the money might change how you’re perceived by others?
Rodgers: No, I’m not too worried about that. It’s for sure going to do that. But that’s something that’s out of my control, and I learned many years ago that there’s going to be so many things that are out of your control that you can go crazy worrying about them. I feel like I’ve worked really hard to be where I’m at. It feels weird to say I worked hard for that money, because I definitely don’t feel that way. But I’ve worked hard to be a good player in this league and the other stuff that comes with it, I’m not going to worry about too much because that’s really out of my control.

Q: Are you bothered by the suggestion that this team is going to have trouble surrounding you with the requisite talent because of how much it’s costing them to keep you? Everyone points to the advantage San Francisco and Seattle have by having young, good quarterbacks who are working for peanuts compared to your contract and the contracts of other elite QBs.
Rodgers: Again, those are opinions that I’m not going to give a whole lot of weight to. I feel like – and I know the organization does or they wouldn’t have done that contract and we wouldn’t have signed that contract – they feel like we can field a successful team. I think the salary-cap numbers alone, especially with the new TV deal coming and the overall salary-cap jump, we’re going to have the opportunity to be successful. This is a contract that I think is rare in professional football these days, where you sign a contract that’s seven years, basically, with the five-year add-on, and I could play all seven without having re-do the deal at all because the cap numbers don’t go astronomically high in Years 3, 4, 5 like some of the other deals signed by some of the top guys who got new deals.

Q: In any way is the contract a burden? Do you worry about justifying the contract?
Rodgers: No, I don’t think it’s a burden. You know, I’ve felt like I’ve had to justify myself every year, so this is nothing different. I wouldn’t look at it as a burden. When they drafted me, I wanted to prove I was worthy of being a first-round draft pick. When they named me the starter, I felt like I had to prove that I was worthy of being a starter. When we went 6-10 the first year, I felt like I had to prove that I belonged in this league and we could get to the playoffs. When we didn’t win in the playoffs (in 2009), I had to prove that I could help this team win a playoff game. When we won a Super Bowl, I had to prove that it wasn’t a fluke, that we could have another good season. There’s always going to be critics and doubters out there, and it’s about finding your inner motivation, because that’s what successful people can do.

Q: So the world-famous chip on Aaron Rodgers’ shoulder hasn’t gone anywhere? You haven’t made it?
Rodgers: I’m very self-motivated. We’ve talked enough about the chip.

Q: Let’s talk about longevity. You’ve mentioned that this is basically a seven-year deal, through 2019. Careers seldom – as you were witness to with Brett Favre – end the way you draw them up. But if you were given the chance to draw it up, how would it play out?
Rodgers: Playing 15, 16, 17 years in one uniform; going out and being remembered as being a great teammate and a guy who performed well on Sunday; a guy his teammates could rely on every game day but also somebody who made practice a lot of fun and the locker room a lot of fun; someone who really cared about the game and hopefully did it all in one uniform. You realize in this game that it’s very rare that you can stay with a team your entire career. I look at that as a challenge. And I love challenges. I love it when people think things can’t be done, and trying to prove to them and myself that I can do them. And it is a challenge, to stay in one uniform for that long. And the way to do that is to play at a high level and keep yourself in incredible shape for that long. And if I can do that, then I think I can be a Green Bay Packer for life.

Q: And that could mean playing beyond this contract? I know you take it one day at a time, but …
Rodgers: Yes – if I play well enough.

Q: People who’ve been married a long time always say that the key to a long, successful marriage is that both people work at making the relationship grow, even after years together. This is now your eighth year with Mike McCarthy. That’s a long time. How do you view your relationship, and how do you grow it and strengthen it? Because there’s been some ups and downs.
Rodgers: Well, I think it has grown. I think one thing that did a lot for us was starting to meet once a week back in 2010, and spending time talking together – about football, about life. I think when you really understand a person off the field, you can better get along with them on the field. I think that’s done a lot for us. You know, he leads by example – in the way he sets up the schedule and practice, a game plan. That’s how he gets the respect from the guys. And he gets more respect from me when he shows me he trusts me by allowing me to have a bigger input on plays at the line of scrimmage or have a bigger voice in the meeting room. And I think that does a lot for the relationship. I think trust goes both ways. We’ve played a lot of football together, been around each other for a long time – me around him as a young head coach, and him around me as a young player. And now, we’re old, grizzled veterans and it’s been fun to see how both of our lives have changed on and off the field, and I think there’s nothing but good things ahead.

Q: He’s said before that he believes conflict is good because it leads to growth. Did you two see your relationship grow after you screamed at him for throwing that challenge flag in Minnesota? I don’t know how you view how you reacted to that, but it was a very emotional reaction.
Rodgers: Yeah, it was. That was definitely a conflict and we grew from it. And now, I think we can both laugh about it. Well, I laugh now. He’ll be able to laugh about it in the future, I think.

Q: Let’s talk about who isn’t on this team: Charles Woodson. Greg Jennings. Donald Driver. Tom Crabtree. Erik Walden. Desmond Bishop. How has the locker room dynamic changed? You always talk about how it’s a new team each year, but this year, it’s really a new team.
Rodgers: Yeah, that’s part of our league. There’s going to be a lot of that. It’s really fun right now. We miss those guys and their personalities, but it’s fun having a young team that has enough veterans in the right spots but with young leaders starting to emerge. I think it’s a cycle. You have a young team and the young guys start to grow up and be leaders, and they become the older guys. And some of them lead, and it’s a circle. Now you’re seeing younger guys like T.J Lang, Josh Sitton, Randall Cobb, Morgan Burnett, Brad Jones, stepping up into a leadership role, and that’s fun to see. Because that’s the character of your team starting to show through. This is an exciting time in the season – this time, training camp, the preseason games – because you kind of get to see your team take shape. I enjoy being one of the older guys on the team, the “longest-tenured Packer” because I’ve seen a lot of guys come through, and you can start to see what guys are doing the right things to put themselves in position to make the team, and you can see guys making the most of their leadership opportunities, which just adds to the character of this team.

Q: You used the phrase – longest-tenured Packer. Now, Ryan Pickett is older than you, John Kuhn is older than you and Tramon Williams is older than you. I think that’s it. The quarterback position demands leadership, doesn’t it? If you’re going to be a good team, your quarterback has to be a good leader, right? But how does this change for you, being the longest-tenured player and seeing all these changes?
Rodgers: Well, I’m more – especially in this type of setting, the learning environment of OTAs and training camp – I’ll be more like kind of an assistant coach. Because I’ve been in this offense for, this will be my ninth season – all eight with Mike McCarthy, and one with Mike Sherman. And it’s been very similar terminology and so I have a ton of reps in this offense. I know it inside and out, and I can really help out the young guys. And I look for those opportunities. It’s fun when you bring in guys who are really eager to learn. And (general manager) Ted (Thompson) and his personnel staff have a track record of bringing in some very talented late-round draft picks and free-agent guys. And it’s fun to see those guys come in with a hunger to learn and get better, and it’s fun to see some of those guys really start to make those jumps in OTAs and training camp to where they put themselves in position to make an NFL roster. And my role in that is to be that voice in their head, helping them out, giving them the encouragement they need, getting on them when they need to be gotten on and kind of demanding a high level of preparation and play. And I look for those opportunities.

Q: McCarthy said at the end of OTAs that this team “has a different edge to it,” that there’s a greater “sense of urgency.” Do you feel that, and what do you think is causing that?
Rodgers: I think the coaches in general are demanding more, and I think that’s a good thing. Mike always talks about the roles of coaches and players. Coaches are to demand and teach and communicate, and players are to prepare, perform and communicate. The players are doing a better job of preparing; we performed better in the OTAs. The coaches are doing a better job of demanding more. There’s a higher level of getting on guys and making sure guys are doing the right things. There was guys flying around at the OTAs a lot more, and I think the teaching level – we have an incredible staff – has gone up noticeably as well. But the biggest thing that may have changed to get this thing going the way we want it to go is the communication. I think Mike really laid out how he wanted this thing to go from Day 1 of the offseason and Day 1 of OTAs. And the guys have bought into it. There hasn’t been any complaining or dissenting opinions during OTAs. It’s been very refreshing seeing guys get on board and be leaders. Especially guys like T.J. and Josh and Evan Dietrich-Smith and Bryan (Bulaga) and Marshall (Newhouse). When your offensive line is leading by example in practice and in the meeting rooms and on the field, the rest of your team is going to follow. I believe that, and I know Mike does as well. And those guys have done a good job of that.

Q: We’ll get back to those offensive linemen in a second, but Jordy Nelson talked the other day about teams having “a window.” Do you still feel that this team’s window is wide open? And you said on the radio show after the San Francisco game that you didn’t feel there was the same appreciation last year as guys had in 2010, or the same hunger last year as 2010. Do you see those both being better as well?
Rodgers: I do. And I see the window staying open. I really do. I see some important guys making that jump mentally and physically. Some guys have been here, and I see these young guys coming in and pushing guys. I look at a guy like Datone Jones. I mean, he’s a man out there. And having guys like that and Johnny Jolly, bringing Johnny back, those are two guys who bring an energy to that defensive line that needs it. Personality-wise, those guys are the funniest guys on the team, but every now and then they need a little kick in the pants, and sometimes it comes from bringing in a couple guys like that who can really raise the level of play of guys. You bring in a guy like Johnathan Franklin or Eddie Lacy, that raises the running back room. When you continually add guys to the mix that can compete right away from Day 1, everybody else has to pick up their game because you start worrying about your own job. When they’re cutting guys like Charles Woodson, and not bringing back Greg, who’s played a long time here, guys who had big roles for us, it has to be a wake-up call to some of our guys that this is about, “What have you done for me lately?” and “What can you do for me?” That’s the type of league that we’re in. That’s how our team looks at us. So you better perform, or you’re going to be looking for a job elsewhere.

Q: What was your initial reaction to the offensive line shuffle, and how do you feel now? Have your thoughts changed at all?
Rodgers: You know what? That was Mike and Coach (James) Campen’s decision. I didn’t see that coming initially, but again, those guys did a good job of rolling with it. I think once we got into the IPWs and OTAs, they realized, ‘This is the way it’s going to be, I’ve got to make the most of it. There’s nothing to be gained from complaining about this or griping about it. Let’s get used to these positions and these stances and being on the other side, and let’s get to work.’ More than anything, having a center like Evan who brings some crazy energy to practice every day and brings a wealth of knowledge and intelligence, that really helps. Because when he can be in the middle and have two incredibly intelligent guards next to him, you can do a lot of things. And those guys have really settled into their roles, and I see that line as improving. I think they’re going to be a tough force for us this year.
And I’ll tell you, I think Marshall has really responded to the challenge. I give Marshall a lot of credit. I think he has played a tough position in a tough division, and he’s played well. Now he’s moving to the right side, which is a little foreign to him although he has played a little bit on that side for us, and I think he’s done a good job. I think it’s going to be evident when you put the pads on this summer, when he’s going against Clay (Matthews) and Nick Perry and Mike Neal and Datone when he’s out wide in their three-down front, this is going to be a good test for him. but I think it’s going to be good. It’s going to be good for Bryan, going against Clay every day, too.

Q: What have you seen from the young running backs, and is this a potential game-changer for your offense? You’re still going to throw the ball, but will this change the way defenses look at you?
Rodgers: I love what we’re doing on offense. We’re tough to stop. And if we can have a balanced attack running the football, just the threat of running the football, it can do nothing but help us. We saw a lot of very soft coverage last year and a lot of four-man rushes. If we can run the ball more effectively, it can only help us when we’re trying to get those one-on-one matchups outside. We have game-breakers outside, and it’d be nice to have some consistent game-breakers inside.

Q: What are your impressions of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin? And you’re also a fan of, as you affectionately call him, “the used car salesman,” DuJuan Harris, who was in fact selling cars when you guys put him on the practice squad.
Rodgers: I love the used car salesman. I think he’s a special player. I think DuJuan Harris is an incredible combination of strength and agility for a man of his size, and I’m excited about seeing what he can do as a featured back. It’s been good having Johnathan and Eddie here. I think you’re seen Alex Green and James Starks do some really good things this spring. It’s going to be a tough competition for however many guys they keep at that spot. But both Johnathan and Eddie bring some different things to the table. Johnathan’s a quick, athletic, loose-hipped guy who can make guys miss in the open field regularly, and Eddie is a power back who also has some agility. You saw him on some power runs, especially this spring, where he’s been able to read his blocks and make guys miss. He’s a very patient runner, which we haven’t had here in awhile. I think you saw some of that with Cedric but really since Ahman (Green) was in his heyday, we haven’t seen anyone be as patient back there. I think this training camp will be really important for him, to go from a high pick to a guy who can really be a difference-maker for us in the backfield. I think when he figures out the mental part of this, which I think he’s getting closer, I think he could be a very talented back for us.

Q: Philosophically, you’re OK with running the ball more? Nobody loves to throw it more than you – except maybe the play-caller.
Rodgers: (smiles) As long as we’re winning.

Q: You have a pretty good track record of picking out guys early that you liked. Who’s made an impression on you? Are there some guys that have caught your eye?
Rodgers: I think two guys who have benefitted maybe the most from this spring are (undrafted rookie wide receivers) Myles White and Tyrone Walker. I think both those guys have made a lot of plays for us. And with our two seventh-round picks at wide receiver (Kevin Dorsey and Charles Johnson) missing most of the OTAs, those guys have stepped up and done some great things. Tyrone reminds me of Antonio Chatman, who not many people know I actually played with. But Deuce had very similar size and agility but he was a good route runner, very good in and out of his breaks. And I see that with Walker. I think he has very good hands, he’s a good route runner and I think he has a chance to be a good player in this league. Myles is very shifty, he has very good releases, and mentally, he’s getting closer. He has a strong hunger to be good in this league and he’s very self-motivated, and that’s very important. Those guys benefit from an incredible position coach in Edgar Bennett, who harps on them about fundamentals and details and he’s got three of the best examples of what it looks like every day in that room in Cobby, Jones and Nelson. I tell those young guys all the time, “Watch the older guy in your group and see how he does things. That’s what I did when I was a young player. Watch the older guy in your group, and pick out the things that he does well that you don’t do yet and try to incorporate those in your game. And look at the things that maybe you don’t like or you don’t understand and question those and figure out why they’re doing them. And then either incorporate that in your game or do it a little differently.” But when you’ve got really good examples like Myles and Tyrone do in their room, there’s no reason they shouldn’t make big leaps this fall and have a chance to make the team.

Q: Do you like those unheralded wide receivers? You’ve got some guys with draft pedigrees in Jordy, who’s a second-round pick, Randall, who’s a second-round pick, and James, who’s a third-round pick. But you’ve always liked these young guys – Chastin West, Diondre Borel, Jarrett Boykin, now White and Walker. You like Boykin, you like Jeremy Ross.
Rodgers: Don’t forget Ruvell (Martin).

Q: Is there something about those guys that you like?
Rodgers: All those guys you mentioned loved football and really wanted to get better. And that’s what it takes in this league. You have to be self-motivated and have a strong desire to improve, and you have to love what you’re doing. Because this is our job. It’s a full-time job if you want to be a great player. And Ruvell was incredibly motivated and desperately wanted to see the game through the quarterback’s eyes and improve and know how he could run his routes better and get the ball. And he had some great production for us here. Jeremy Ross and Jarrett Boykin, both came in last year – Jarrett was obviously with us earlier than Jeremy – and really wanted to get better. They wanted to know what I was thinking, wanted to know why I did this or why I threw that route or wanted a guy to run it this way or that way. You can’t have enough guys like that. It’s impressive when you see guys who really care about it enough to spend the time on it, because what else are you going to do right now in the offseason? If you want to make this team and you’re a free-agent guy and you have to make it, you have to show up. And those guys have so far and put themselves in a position to make a run in training camp.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings (85) carries the ball during an NFL NFC Wild-card playoff football game against the Minnesota Vikings Saturday, January 5, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers won 24-10. (AP Photo/David Stluka)

Q: One last thing on the passing game. Greg Jennings is in Minnesota, Donald Driver has been turned into a statue by the Titletown Brewing Co. How do you feel about the weapons you have left – Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley – and what they can do?
Rodgers: I love ‘em. I love our weapons. We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things for you. We have two of the top outside receivers in the league in Jordy and James. Look at the catches James made last year – incredible. Look at the production Jordy’s had here for us, his ability to make second-reaction plays, his ability to go up and get the ball, his ability to hardly ever – other than last year in Minnesota – get caught from behind. Those are talented, talented football players. And then Randall in the slot, I think he’s really refined his craft and become a very good slot receiver, and I think the best is yet to come with him. And Jermichael last year made some big strides for us down the stretch. You look at the year he put up last year, when he was at the top of a lot of statistical categories for Green Bay tight ends, and I think the best is still yet to come from him. I think he can do even more. And he feels that way. For him, it’s always been about making the plays your own and doing it with confidence. And I think he gained a lot of confidence last year, how he finished the season. I’m excited and I know he’s excited about what this year could hold for him.

Q: What is your life like now, from the end of OTAs until training camp starts? I know you care about playing well in the American Century Golf Championship in July in Lake Tahoe, but what else goes on in your life? And how important is it to get away from football for the next 40-some days?
Rodgers: Yeah, that’s important. Less important than the first part of the offseason, though. This time for me is all about training my body for training camp and training my golf swing for Tahoe. It’ll be a lot of double-days in the workouts and trying to get myself in the best position to be ready to start training camp fast and start the season fresh as well. I tell you, this is really the first year where I’ve felt like I had to do a little bit more to get myself into the same I wanted to get in. And that’s because it’s not only my ninth season, but I know the most important thing for me to be able to play to the end of this contract is going to be to make sure my legs stay strong and I’m able to do the things I like to do on the field: Be athletic out of the pocket, make some plays with my feet, and be able to have that balance to throw in the pocket with my legs underneath me. So it’s going to be all about getting myself in the best, tip-top physical shape I can, and getting ready to have a good season.

Q: Do you need to take fewer sacks?
Rodgers: I don’t look at it that way.

Q: How do you look at it?
Rodgers: We need to decrease our number of sacks.

Q: So how do you do that while not changing who you are? No one wants to see you get hurt, and your offensive coordinator, your pal Tom Clements, said that you put yourself at risk at times.
Rodgers: Yeah, I don’t want to get hurt. We just need to avoid a few of them and I think we will. We all have a part in that, from myself to the line to the backs to the tight ends to the scheme. We’ve got to find the right mix and try to cut that number in half.

Q: Any other HBO series you’re going to ruin the season finale of this offseason? Your Game of Thrones Tweet didn’t go over so well.
Rodgers: I took some heat, yeah. It’s the 24-hour rule though. You’ve got 24 hours not to get spoilered. It was way more than 24 hours after the episode aired. I gave them 24 hours for the whole world to see it, if they wanted to. If you’re a true fan, then you don’t wait 24 hours to see it. I was back from a flight real late and watched it at 12 when I had to be back in the next morning at 7.

Q: Why are you such a big fan of this show, Mr. Princess Bride?
Rodgers: Because it’s fantasy, it’s a fantasy world with magic and dragons and good looking women and all different types of people. You’ve got the white walkers, you’ve got the zombies … dragons, battles, killing … it’s pretty incredible.

Q: If you say so. Let’s finish here: What are your expectations for 2013? You’ll be asked this again in training camp, but with what San Francisco and Seattle have done, do you feel like your team goes in as a contender, but an under-the-radar one? Because that’s when you think your team is at its best, no?
Rodgers: I love it. I love being under the radar. For sure, we’re a contender. For sure. I mean, we’re going to put ourselves in position to win a lot of games. Our goal is to win our division and get to the playoffs. And anything can happen. And then hopefully we can take care of business like we did in 2010 when we get back there. The NFL didn’t do us any favors with the schedule, but we don’t need them to.

Full session here

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers considers his legacy and Green Bay’s new offense

June 2, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

~GREEN BAY — Life is good for Aaron Rodgers.

Lounged in a leather chair at 1265 Lombardi Ave., the Green Bay Packers quarterback takes his hat off and sips grape Gatorade. He has every reason to smile. He has the Super Bowl ring and league MVP award and — this off-season — Rodgers became the richest player in NFL history with a five-year, $110 million contract extension.

Hall of Famers have spent entire careers chasing what Rodgers has achieved in five years as a starting quarterback.

Rodgers has many rings as Brees, Favre, and Peyton do, but he'd like to get to Bart Starr and Tom Brady's level, which is three rings. First he needs to catch Eli and Big Ben at two.

So now Rodgers enters the back nine of his NFL career. Now, he wants more.

In a conversation with Journal Sentinel beat writer Tyler Dunne last week, Rodgers talked about the massive expectations linked to a historic contract, whether the new deal finally gives him the respect he has always sought, the changing personnel around him on offense, the sting of watching the Super Bowl as a spectator, and his overall thirst for more rings and a legacy that will last.

Q. How did the off-season go for you? Did you do anything different this year?

A. I was in San Diego for the most part. I did a little traveling and a lot of mental and physical relaxation for the first month and then got back into my training regimen. The usual. Played a lot of golf, went to the Kentucky Derby and just ready to get back at it.

Q. So people want to know: What does a guy with a $35 million signing bonus do?

A. Nothing. Nothing different.

Q. Nothing? No plans with the new contract?

A. I wanted a truck when I got drafted and I wanted to take care of my family. I did those things and I’m just going to be smart with my money.

Q. Do the friends and family members come out of the woodwork?

A. Not really. My family’s really good about that. This isn’t my first contract, so I’ve already dealt with a lot of that stuff with people. And I think in general, when you have success it can redefine relationships. Part of that is sad, but other parts of it are exciting when you get to meet some different types of people and people you can relate to who have had similar experiences. That’s the enjoyable part of that. But my family — both immediate and extended — has been great. They’re very supportive. It’s been nice to be able to do some things for them and give back to my folks who gave so much to us boys.

The Packers have to keep #12 from scenes like this. He's been pretty luck in that he's taken a lot of sacks, but hasn't gotten injured yet, other than a few minor things.

Q. In what ways do expectations and/or pressure on you heighten with this deal?

A. Not personally. I don’t put extra pressure on myself. There might be external expectations that rise, and that’s OK because I put a lot of pressure on myself to be successful. I just think it gives my position as a leader on this team and the face of the franchise some final legitimacy, if I needed it at all. I take that role very seriously. It’s being a role model. It’s being a good teammate. It’s being a good representation on the franchise.

For me, the new contract was just a reminder that this is going to be my home for my career. I don’t have any desire to play anywhere else. If I play well, there’s a good chance that this is a deal that won’t have to be redone at all. When you look at some of the other deals that guys signed, there are some very large cap numbers late in those deals. Five-year deals turn out to really be three-year deals because of the cap numbers. We felt like our deal gives the Packers a chance to still be able to field a very solid team and we won’t have to rip up this deal and try to do a new one in three to five years.

Q. You’ve always had the chip on the shoulder and have searched for more respect. But don’t you have that from everyone now?

A. I don’t think so. No, there’s still, there’s going to be critics out there all the time. And now, it’s probably going to be related contract-wise because of the new deal, and that’s fine. A lot of those things I can’t control and I learned as a young player to not try to worry about those things you can’t control and to focus on the things you can — and that’s your preparation, your mental focus, your mental toughness and the way you’re playing on the field. So that’s what I focus on. The other stuff is stuff that’s there that you learn to deal with. Some of it’s comical. Some of it’s silly at times. And the rest is stuff you can’t worry about.

Q. Is there any vindication to you that the deal was struck on draft day?

A. Well, I think irony is the better word. Vindication, I’m not looking for vindication. I’m looking to be the best player that I can be. Every time the draft comes on, they show my mug on there and talk about the wait that I had and guys who have had similar waits over the years as well.

Josh Sitton is one of the guys who's top job is to protect Rodgers.

Q. Do you get sick of seeing that or do you enjoy it?

A. No, it’s a good reminder of the feelings I had that day and the swing of emotions that happened until I was picked and not knowing what I know now. You watch a lot of movies where single events can change the course of history or you can go back in time. I think if you look at myself as a 21-year-old, at the time you don’t realize there’s good things to come. You’re just like, “Get me out of this green room. I need to be somewhere.” If I could talk to myself eight years ago, I’d say, “Just relax and focus on the things you can control and realize there is a light at the end of the tunnel and there’s good things to come.”

Q. You mentioned those points in history. Do you win a Super Bowl, are named MVP and get this contract if that wait does not happen?

A. Well, I’m still confident in my abilities and I felt like I was going to be successful in this league. But you need a supporting cast and you need an organization that supports you, and I couldn’t have asked for a better spot to be in. This is the only major U.S. sporting franchise that doesn’t have an owner. That’s a plus. The winning tradition we have here, the expectations we have here, the family atmosphere that exists in the Midwest with this organization, it was a perfect fit with my personality and my background. It’s been fun to have some success here both individually and as a team.

Q. A lot of changes on offense this year. Greg Jennings is gone. The offensive line is reconfigured. What challenges do you and the offense face now?

A. I think the expectations have gotten very high for this offense. We’re OK with that. But sometimes the ability to meet those expectations is even more difficult because those expectations are so high. We have personal expectations that we talk about in our offensive meeting room. I think the best thing that happened for us was that (coach) Mike (McCarthy) made the switch on Day 1 when we were on the field. So those guys knew “This is how it’s going to be. Get comfortable at those spots.” That’s helped.

Losing Greg and Donald (Driver) gives some other guys some opportunities. We have three of the best in the league as a combination with Jordy (Nelson), James (Jones) and Randall (Cobb). I’m really excited about those guys, and then we’ve got some guys behind them who have a chance to make the team and contribute. I like our offense and I like what we can do in the passing game. And now, I think we can complement it with a more consistent running game with two stud backs we got in the draft and a former used car salesman.

Q. When you look at the numbers, in 2011, 69% of the offense came from you. Last year, it was 71%. Have you had to carry the offense too much?

A. No, I don’t think so. I just think it’s better when we have balance for everybody. It helps with the passing game. It slows down the rush. It gives us opportunities to have some more one-on-ones outside. But I have high expectations for myself regardless of the coverage, the opponent, the score and I know my teammates do as well. So I enjoy the opportunity to carry whatever load is put on me and I expect to play well.

Q. But how has the lack of a running game affected the offense?

A. It just hasn’t given us the consistency that we need from that department. The ability to have a balance can give you those eight-man boxes and one-on-one matchups outside and open up some lanes for those guys. We usually win those one-on-one battles. When teams play more Cover 2 and match up or go three over two and trust their front four to not only stop the run but get after the passer, that really makes our job difficult.

Q. You predicted Randall Cobb’s ascent awhile back. How did that relationship grow, and how did you two click so well?

Rodgers knew that Cobb had some special skills. If they can both stay healthy, who knows how great they can become together.

A. He cares about it a lot. He puts a lot of extra time in. He watches a ton of film. He spent an off-season watching various slot guys that he admired and tried to pick things up. He’s very well-coached. I think Edgar Bennett deserves a lot of credit. Here’s a guy who’s a Packer Hall of Fame running back who’s coaching receivers and doing a heck of a job. So that helps. He stays on those guys about ball security and detailed routes. That helps. But Randall sees the game through the eyes of a quarterback because he was a quarterback. So he understands timing and spacing and when he has to get out of his breaks. He’s an excellent — just like Jordy is — an excellent second reaction guy. When I have to come out of the pocket, where in the past you might have seen some of the balls go to Greg and Jordy, Randall caught more than anybody last year because he was healthy and he also has really good reactions.

Q. How good do you think he can be?

A. I think he can be a 100-catch guy. We haven’t had that here in a while. But I think he can. I think he’s a special player. As long as he can stay healthy, I think he’s going to be a big-time star for us.

Q. What was the toughest part about the playoff loss at San Francisco?

A. Probably the third quarter. In the third quarter, we had some opportunities to get back into the game and take the lead and didn’t do it. That was frustrating. That’s a good football team. They’re very well coached. They have a solid group of guys on both sides of the ball and Colin (Kaepernick) was playing real well. After the first pick, he came back and played excellent. So when you’re playing a team like that, you have to control the football and score points. Possessions are even more important in the playoffs. And in the third quarter, we had three possessions and three good opportunities to keep drives going and score and we didn’t.

Q. What was the No. 1 thing you learned from that game? Have you gone back to watch it?

A. Yeah, you go back and watch it, but I’ve been a part of three losing playoff games. They’re all difficult. You learn similar things. Execution is at a premium, whether it’s Play 1 or Play 70, those plays are all important. And when you have the opportunity to make a big play out there, you have to make it happen. We had a few real close misses in San Fran just like we had in Arizona and just like we did against New York. So we have to make those plays in those playoff games. The teams that do usually win.

Q. Everybody says that once you win the Super Bowl, you want more. But what does that mean to you?

A. Yeah, it’s a special feeling, to be in the Super Bowl and be a part of those two weeks. The excitement is incredible. Just being around the atmosphere. I’ve been at the Super Bowl the last two years working the first year and last year doing some different events. It’s difficult to be there because you remember the feelings that you had and how special those times were. The margin for error between a win and a loss is so small, the difference between teams in the playoffs is minute. It comes down to execution.

Q. So what’s going through your head when you’re just watching these games from the stands?

A. It’s a different perspective because you’re not used to doing that. You’re used to being on the sideline. I get annoyed when I watch the games with other people because there are a lot of armchair quarterbacks out there who don’t know a whole lot of what they’re talking about. So that’s kind of interesting to hear people’s perspective on what they’re yelling at and why they’re yelling and whose fault it is. It’s exciting to be at an event like that because the atmosphere’s incredible, but it’s not where you want to be. You want to be on the field.

Q. You said you want to be in Green Bay for the rest of your career. How much does a legacy within the organization mean to you?

A. That’s really important. I was able to spend time with Bart Starr at my MACC Fund event. Bart has an incredible legacy here, not only winning on the field but the kind of person that he is off the field and what he’s done. It’s a responsibility when you’re a Packer to be a good citizen and to give back to this community. And I look forward to more opportunities to do that. I look at it as a seven-year deal. If I play well for seven years, then I should be here. So I owe it to my teammates and this franchise to give everything I have for these seven years and we’ll see what happens after that.

Rodgers would love to match Starr's Super Bowl ring total. So would Bart.

Q. When you talk to Bart Starr, is this running through your mind because you know the legacy he left?

A. Yeah, for sure. The first thing you talk about when people talk about Bart Starr is the kind of person he is. I think that speaks to what his legacy is. He was more than just a football player. I hope people say that about me when I’m done.

Q. Quarterbacks are judged by rings. Is that fair or unfair?

A. I don’t know what is fair in this life and what isn’t. But Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, don’t have rings. And then you have some other guys who aren’t in that conversation who have one or two. It just depends who’s talking about it. There’s always going to be pundits out there talking about guys from different generations. It’s like when you’re talking about Michael (Jordan) and Kobe (Bryant). It’s hard to compare players like that without having them play against each other.

Q. But is that something that drives you — rings? Multiple?

A. For sure. Bart has two Super Bowl rings. Brett (Favre) has one. And I have one. I’d like, when I’m done, to have the most rings. I don’t know if it’s possible to get as many championships as Bart has, but maybe I can equal him in rings.

Q. Where do you keep the ring?

A. I’m not telling. I don’t want anybody trying to get it.

Q. Your brother said you still keep (Division I) rejection letters from schools up in your closet. Are there any other tangible sources of motivation that you use to this day?

A. I used to have some real negative articles somewhere. But, no, I’m very self-motivated and you have to be self-motivated to be successful in professional sports. I still like to look through some of that old stuff and see how much has changed. I have an old article from 2007. It’s actually a positive article, but I like to keep that because it’s good to remember where you came from, how far you’ve come and realize what you have to do to stay there.

It’s kind of a progression from becoming a good player, trying to get to the next level, taking that jump and then sustaining it is probably the most difficult part. And that’s kind of where I’m at in my career. I’m trying to stay right where I am for a very long time.

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Packers safety Sean Richardson optimistic after neck injury

June 2, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

~GREEN BAY — Sean Richardson had two ways to look at his very serious neck injury last season.

He could worry about his future in football.

Or he could be grateful that he still had a future at all.

The 6-foot-2 safety out of Vanderbilt has chosen to concentrate on the latter this off-season while he continues to rehabilitate from the sideline while his peers compete for jobs during the Packers practices in Green Bay.

“I never had a doubt that I wanted to hang it up. Never,” said Richardson. “I always keep faith, pray about it and talk to my family. I got a lot of support from the team and outside of the team. It’s been a journey and I had the heart for it. I’m excited to get back.”

You might remember Richardson — but then again you might not. After a brilliant preseason in which he led the Packers in tackles with 16 and stood out on special teams as well, he was one of four non-drafted rookies to make the roster in 2012.

"I just keep faith and keep pushing. I'll be back out there."

He was inactive for the first six games of the regular season, hampered by a hamstring injury. Then for five games he was on the field for special teams, playing 91 of a possible 143 snaps. He had four tackles during that span. He also played some safety in the Packers’ victory in Detroit on Nov. 18. It was a promising start.

When he got hurt covering the opening kickoff Nov. 25 against the New York Giants, it was his back that tightened up and bothered him, not his neck. He wasn’t alarmed.

“I went to practice, practiced for a few days and got a lot better so I was thinking I’d be fine for the next game,” said Richardson, which would have been against Minnesota. “That Friday, just as a precaution they wanted to check it out and see what it looked like — and that’s when I got the bad news.”

He had a herniated disc in his neck.

“Pretty serious,” said Richardson.

He was placed on injured reserve Dec. 1. After Richardson’s MRI, his doctors wondered if he would not only have to treat the herniated disc but also have a fusion, where one or more vertebrae are united so that motion no longer occurs. They wouldn’t know for sure until they operated.

“But after the surgery, they said it wasn’t nearly as bad as they thought and that was a great sign,” said Richardson. “There wasn’t any nerve damage. So that was a plus. A lot of the things they had planned on doing on the neck they didn’t have to do. It was a great.”

The surgery was in January and afterward he was on bed rest for two weeks. Then he began rehabilitating the muscles around the neck.

“It’s been a long journey but I have been staying focused and positive,” said Richardson, 23. “The coaches and players are keeping me up.

“The doctor did a great job, the injury doesn’t give me any problems. I actually forget that I had the surgery unless somebody reminds me. Other than that I feel fine.”

His doctor was orthopedic spine surgeon Robert Watkins of Los Angeles, the doctor who operated on Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.

“It gave me a lot of hope,” said Richardson. “I know Peyton Manning is the best and is looking for the best, so I felt pretty confident. I got a lot of feedback on who should do the surgery and Watkins’ name came up a lot.”

Richardson said he’s close to 100% recovered, that he has crossed three major hurdles and only has to satisfy his doctors on two remaining tests that aren’t as tough. He feels he will be ready for training camp, “if not sooner.”

He is missing important practice right now. The Packers need to fill Charles Woodson’s spot and M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMilliam are the top considerations there to start opposite Morgan Burnett.

Richardson said he wasn’t too concerned about not participating in organized team activities, or the mandatory minicamp that starts Tuesday. He believes no jobs have been won or lost yet, echoing the same line from coach Mike McCarthy recently.

“It’s always tough to be on the sideline,” said Richardson. “I wasn’t always the best player on the field but I always worked for it, always competed, and I play with a passion. That’s what got me here and that’s what’s keeping me going. That’s what helped me through this surgery and the rehab.”

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A healthy Bishop is critical to Packers defense

June 2, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

~GREEN BAY — The most surprising move of free agency for the Packers? That’d be the cap-conscious Ted Thompson shelling out $11.25 million over three years to Brad Jones.

For being the third man up at inside linebacker, Jones eclipsed expectations. He made the switch from outside linebacker to the inside and played 794 of a possible 801 snaps over the final 12 games. Jones became what the Packers preach — a back-up who maximized an opportunity. For a taller inside linebacker, the 6-foot-3 Jones wasn’t shoved around, either.

Bradj Jones was drafted to be a pass-rushing, edge, OLB for the Packers, but last year he filled in adequately for the injured ILBers Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith.

The thinking, for Green Bay, is that Jones could possibly stick as a three-down linebacker. A.J. Hawk? He was retained as well at a restructured deal, set to make $3.6 million this year.

Jones is back. Hawk is back. Not to mention, the Packers infused more youth into the position, too. That’s why Desmond Bishop, who signed a four-year deal Jan. 2011, called the situation “awkward” in our sit-down interview with the linebacker before OTA’s. When asked if he has to re-prove himself, if he must earn his starting spot back, Bishop said, “I don’t know really. It’s kind of awkward a little bit. Everybody’s paid. I don’t know.”

Whenever Bishop does return to the field, things should get interesting. If the linebacker is back by training camp, as he hopes, can Green Bay afford to banish him to the sideline again? He directly helps the Packers’ defense where they need it most — creating turnovers, adding toughness, blitzing. Bishop is driven by a seek-and-destroy mentality Green Bay has often missed.

Bishop had a team-best pressures-per-snap rate of 5.5 and 6.8 on his rushes in 2010 and 2011, per Bob McGinn's annual grades.

For now, coach Mike McCarthy is simply happy that he has a deep group.

“I felt probably that 2010 linebacker group was the deepest group that I’ve ever been around as a head coach, and this year’s group definitely has a chance to champion that,” McCarthy said this week. “You never have enough good football players. Desmond’s situation is medical. Until he’s cleared there, you know how that goes. Sometimes it takes a little longer than everybody would like it to, but it’s clearly a very, very competitive group.”

And 2010 is a good example. Depth, with Bishop, helped the Packers overcome the loss of starter Nick Barnett. Even though Jones, Hawk and Bishop are all making starter’s money, injuries are unpredictable. That being said, Bishop also had a team-best pressures-per-snap rate of 5.5 and 6.8 on his rushes in 2010 and 2011, per Bob McGinn’s annual grades. Solid against the run, he also made the momentum-shifting plays lacking from the inside linebacker position last year with eight sacks, four forced fumbles and many pressures in 25 games.

Rewind to a Sunday night win at an electric Georgia Dome. With Green Bay ahead by a touchdown midway through the fourth, Bishop’s delayed blitz and sack of Matt Ryan swung momentum. The week prior, his trailing forced fumble in a win over Denver was exactly what coaches are teaching players during OTAs.

The Packers were often good, rarely great at inside linebacker. Such plays were lacking last year. Getting through rugged San Francisco and Atlanta will take a little something extra. And for a unit preaching energy more than ever, Bishop would seem to be the remedy.

Of course, the hamstring is a question mark. If Bishop isn’t the same player he was in 2010 and 2011, it’s a different debate. It’d be easier for Green Bay to leave Hawk and Jones as the starters. And if Bishop is “110%,” it’s hard to see awkwardness lingering into the season.

We’ll likely be checking in on all of this again by August.

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