Evolving Leadership

The Packers will miss Charles Woodson, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, but you don't have to be a veteran to be a leader, coach Mike McCarthy told the team on Monday.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Leaders, that is.

The Green Bay Packers lost three veterans during the offseason, with the departures of Charles Woodson, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings taking three leaders out of the locker room.

"It's going to be tough to replace guys like that," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Tuesday. "The leadership areas you miss the most. Obviously, from a friendship standpoint, it was great to spend so many years with them and be a part of so many great victories and accomplishments, and watch them achieve incredible individual success and be able to play with them and achieve some team success, as well. We'll miss them a lot. Those guys are incredible players and people."

When Rodgers and Clay Matthews signed lucrative contract extensions to solidify their standing as bedrocks of the franchise, Rodgers said they'd have to "take advantage of leadership opportunities." Coach Mike McCarthy, however, expects more from everyone — young and old, star and role player.

That was the message laid out to the team by McCarthy on Monday, Rodgers said. "Anyone," Rodgers recalled McCarthy saying, "can be a leader."

That was a continuation of a theme that McCarthy talked in depth about at the Scouting Combine.

"Locker room culture is something that I wouldn't say is a moving target but it's something that's either growing or not growing," McCarthy said three months ago. "So, it's important for the leaders and, particularly, our young guys. Leadership's not always designated by how many years you've been in the league or how good a player you are. There's leadership opportunities for every man in that locker room. It's important for our leadership to grow. We have a very healthy culture  in our locker room. It's something we pay close attention to. Charles and Donald are special people, special players, so it's not trying to replace them. It's really putting the energy, the effort, the focus, the education, on the individuals now there for that locker room to grow."

At receiver, the Packers began the post-Driver and post-Jennings transition last year. Driver barely played and Jennings missed half the season, so James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb stepped up on the field as well as in the locker room. Thus, Jones said there's no pressure to be more of a leader.

"We're going to be the same guys we were last year," Jones said. "All of us that are here were the lead receivers on the team last year in some category. We're going to be the same leaders we were last year. It's not going to change just because Donald and Greg are gone. We feel like we all were leaders in that room. We'll be the same guys, have fun and lead when we have to lead."

Cobb is a shining example of the culture McCarthy and general manager have built. Even as a second-year player in 2012, Cobb emerged as a leader.

"You don't have to wait until your fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth year to be classified as a leader," McCarthy said.

Matthews, who is entering his fifth season, seemed especially vocal at Tuesday's practice. He also had a lengthy conversation with Mike Neal, who is making the transition to outside linebacker, during a special teams period.

"I think it's just the natural progression of leadership on this team," Matthews said on Tuesday. "Obviously, the more comfortable I am in this scheme and the longer I'm here, the longer tenured I am, the more I have to take that leadership opportunity.

"A lot of these young guys look up to you, especially having some personal success myself. I'm going to do everything I can to help this defense get to where we need to go, and if that means being a little more vocal, running around having some fun, then hopefully these guys follow."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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