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Time for Aaron Rodgers to change after injuries? 'Nope'

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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The first time the question was posed to Aaron Rodgers back in November, shortly after he broke his collarbone for the second time in four seasons, a lengthy pause followed.

This time, when the Green Bay Packers quarterback was asked whether he needs to change his style of play -- to stay in the pocket more often rather than subject himself to the kind of hits that led to the two biggest injuries of his career -- he answered without hesitation.

"Nope," Rodgers said.

Not at all?

Rodgers shook his head from side to side.

Rodgers answered much more definitively than he did shortly after his injury, when he said: "I haven't thought about that a whole lot, but what comes to mind right away is no. But I might need to think about that the next eight weeks."

Since he became a starter in 2008, no quarterback has thrown more touchdown passes from outside the pocket than Rodgers. And it’s not even close. Rodgers has 62 of them in 126 regular-season games, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Next best is Matt Ryan, who has 27 fewer in 16 more games. Ben Roethlisberger ranks tied for third (31 in 128 games) with Matthew Stafford (31 in 125 games).

"Best in the league at playing in the pocket and extending plays outside the pocket; that won’t change," said Frank Cignetti Jr., the Packers' new quarterbacks coach. "Moving forward, we’re going to expect Aaron to play the way he always has."

Rodgers proved effective -- even dynamic -- as mostly a pocket passer in 2014 when he played into the playoffs with a badly sprained calf. But even at age 34, Rodgers’ ability to improvise on the move has not waned.

Perhaps Rodgers simply has to protect himself by expecting to get hit every time. The film of last year’s injury showed that Rodgers clearly did not expect Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr to hit him -- a hit that drove him into the ground -- after he released the ball. That was evident in the way he fell. He tried to brace his fall with his right arm, which isn’t how coach Mike McCarthy and his staff teach quarterbacks to fall when they’re hit. That was a clear reaction to Rodgers’ surprise by the hit. Ordinarily, he would roll into a hit rather than brace himself.

"We'd love to be able to have our quarterbacks sit on their back foot, go through their progressions, deliver the ball from the pocket on time, in rhythm, never get hit," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "We know that's not a realistic thing that can happen in the game. And we certainly don't want to take away, as Mike always talks about, there's two phases to every pass play: There's a progression -- the pocket phase -- and then there's the out-of-pocket phase. We've been beneficiaries of a lot of big plays from Aaron outside the pocket. We don't want to lose that part of the offense.

"And frankly, it helps us against a defense, because they have to game plan for him being able to escape, him being able to make some throws outside of the pocket. But there's a balance like anything."

Rodgers looked the same as usual during Tuesday’s OTA practice, the first open session of the spring. The ball came out with zip, and he orchestrated a touchdown drive in the two-minute drill, throwing a dart to Randall Cobb down the seam for a 48-yard touchdown.

"I feel great now," Rodgers said after the practice.

Now, he needs to stay that way since he’s not planning to change his style.