Take a look at the Green Bay Packers’ roster, and one word comes to mind.
Green. As in young.
“There’s a lot of ’90s babies in here. It’s weird,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said last week. “You guys can relate to that. It’s a different locker room.”
With receiver James Jones, fullback John Kuhn and long snapper Brett Goode unsigned, the Packers have only four players older than age 30 on their roster. Julius Peppers is 36, Rodgers is 32 and Mason Crosby and Jordy Nelson are 31. Two more players are 30: Clay Matthews and James Starks.
Around the NFC North, the Bears have four players older than 30 and four more who are 30, the Lions have nine players older than 30 and one more who is 30, and the Vikings have seven players older than 30 and two more who are 30. The NFC’s two other powers last season were the Cardinals and Panthers. Arizona has five players older than 30 and four more who are 30, and Carolina has six players older than 30 and three more who are 30. The Redskins and Seahawks also made the NFC playoffs. Washington has seven players older than 30 and one more who is 30, and Seattle has three players older than 30 and three more who are 30.
Of those eight teams, Green Bay and Seattle have the fewest 30-and-older players with six apiece. Nobody has fewer players older than 32 than Green Bay, with only Peppers. Suddenly, Rodgers is the second-oldest player on the team.
“It’s tough when you lose (veteran) guys or you show back up in the locker room and they’re not there,” Rodgers said. “That’s part of getting older in the league. You look at the last three or four years — A.J. Hawk, I sat next to him for nine years in the meeting room. His locker was just a couple down from here. James Jones came back to us last year and was our leading receiver; obviously, he’s not here after a year hiatus before that. And John. Those are three of my closest friends as teammates over the years. You’d love to see guys like be around because you know they can help us win.”
Going young isn’t just a Green Bay thing, though the Packers did field the second-youngest Week 1 roster in the league last season. In 2010, the average age was 26.45. Last year, that was down to 26.14. Rodgers is nine years older than two of his key targets, Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery, and eight years older than Jeff Janis. That’s quite the generation gap, meaning Rodgers has had to make sure he’s the one opening the lines of communication.
“You just have to be intentional about spending time with them and talking to them,” Rodgers said. “The thing you learn as you get older in the league is there’s some apprehension in them coming up to you. They might not feel comfortable asking those questions right away, so you have to have an icebreaker, whether it’s a joke or a nickname or a funny anecdote that you read about them and found out about them from Tom (Fanning of the public-relations department) or from the program or from a story from college that somebody knew. You’ve just got to be intentional about it and find time to talk to those guys. The more comfortable they feel with you the more comfortable they’re going to be in asking questions. And the more questions that they ask when it’s the appropriate time, the more we can start to get on the same page.”
Getting on the same page is critical if a young player has any expectation of getting on the field. That’s because learning the offense goes far beyond learning the X’s and O’s detailed in the iPad playbooks.
“We do a good job in our meetings of giving myself and the coaches opportunities to really talk about how the game is seen through the quarterback’s eyes,” Rodgers said. “So, those guys get a great opportunity to learn how I see the game early, but there has to be conversations along the way so they know what the expectations are. Because there are, like I’ve said before, there’s two offenses. There’s the offense on paper and the offense that we run. And there’s some slight differences. It’s about how I like things run and those guys do a good job of asking the right questions.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.