Can Rodgers Hit Ground Running After Layoff?

That's the big question with Aaron Rodgers, who has missed seven consecutive games after breaking his collarbone on Nov. 4. Working in Rodgers' favor is he's been practicing for a month.

When Aaron Rodgers lines up behind center Evan Dietrich-Smith at Chicago on Sunday, it will be one day shy of eight weeks since the Green Bay Packers' franchise quarterback will have taken a live snap.

So, can Rodgers pick up from where he left off at the time of the broken collarbone, when he had a 108.0 quarterback rating for the season and the team had scored 75 points the past two weeks?

"I like to think so," Rodgers said after Thursday's practice, "but I'm sure if I miss a pass, that it's because I'm rusty, or if I hit one, it's going to be a big deal or something. But it's about preparation for me and going through the practice reps like I did today and tomorrow, and getting ready to play."

Working in Rodgers' favor is he's been practicing for about a month. So much of quarterbacking is about mechanics and fundamentals and footwork. The daily drill work has kept his fundamentals intact.

"Aaron is a seasoned pro, extremely productive, knows the offense inside and out," coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's just really getting back into the little things. It's always the little things. It's a little thing that caught Matt Flynn against Pittsburgh on the interception. It's just getting back into the fine details of the offense. But as far as throwing the ball, moving around with his feet, all the things he does and has done for a long time, I'm not really concerned about that."

Since practicing during the abbreviated workweek heading into the game at Detroit on Nov. 28, McCarthy said Rodgers' rep count has increased steadily. That's helped keep Rodgers as sharp as possible without getting game action.

"He got a lot of reps," quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said, noting that Rodgers didn't seem rusty upon returning to practice after the injury. "He was getting reps in the fundamental periods, but got more of our stuff a little more each week and some reps against our defense with the look team, and he always enjoys those. So, yeah, those'll go a long way."

Rodgers' counterpart, Jay Cutler, recently missed four games with a sprained ankle. He returned to beat Cleveland 38-31 on Dec. 15, going 22-of-31 passing for 265 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. In last week's 54-11 loss at Philadelphia, Cutler completed 20-of-35 for 222 yards with one touchdown and one interception before being benched.

"I think it's all relative to what's going on around," Bears coach Marc Trestman said in a conference call when asked if Cutler was rusty after his long layoff. "Jay started the Cleveland game and, for a number of reasons, we had two turnovers early. He also started very fast in that game and finished very strong. Everybody's different. Every time somebody comes off an injury situation, things can happen in a lot of different ways. Jay was able to withstand some adversity early after a fast start and finish strong."

Bears linebacker Lance Briggs returned last week after missing six games with a shoulder injury. While Briggs and Rodgers play different positions, Briggs noticed the rust against the Eagles.

"Oh, yeah," he said during his conference call. "When I had gotten hurt, I was very confident – not only in my position but what teams are going to do and keying on plays. Now, it's really just getting back to fundamentals, reading my keys and getting to where I need to be. That's work enough."

Receiver Jordy Nelson said Rodgers and the receivers were on the same page at practice. It helps that Rodgers has been throwing to receiver James Jones since 2007, Nelson since 2008 and Randall Cobb since 2011. That comfort level doesn't disappear in a span of a couple months, they say.

"The good thing is he's a vet," Jones said. "He's not a rookie quarterback. He's a vet, so he knows what he has to do. He knows how he has to hit the books, hit the film study to prepare for this game to go out there and play at a high level. I think he will go out there and be the guy that left a couple of weeks ago."

The adjustment factor might have to come from his teammates. With Rodgers, the playbook expands and he has the leeway to change just about everything from the play to blocking assignments at the line of scrimmage.

"Communication is the biggest thing. There's a lot of it," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. "Expect the unexpected. Aaron may reach back and grab something we did six, eight weeks ago. So, I told them that this morning: ‘Just be ready for anything, and whatever he says, do it, because he's got a reason he's doing it and he's usually right.' So, just be ready for stuff that's maybe not in the game plan that Aaron sees and can recognize and get us into a play that can help us. They'll be ready for anything."


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


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.


Packer Report Top Stories