Tuesday was about the final turning of the page.
“I talked to T.J. (Lang) this morning. Not having him in there is different. It’s definitely a big change,” Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “I saw over the weekend at Randall (Cobb’s) wedding some former teammates: Micah Hyde, James Jones and Casey Hayward. It’s always good seeing those guys.”
With Pro Bowl guard Lang in Detroit with the Lions and versatile defensive back Hyde in Buffalo with the Bills, Rodgers joined his teammates for the start of the Packers’ offseason program on Tuesday.
Major change is rare in Green Bay. It’s a big reason why only the Packers and Patriots have qualified for the playoffs in each of the past eight seasons. But major change — at least by the Packers’ standards — struck this offseason. Lang and Hyde were joined by running back Eddie Lacy, tight end Jared Cook, center J.C. Tretter and outside linebackers Julius Peppers and Datone Jones as major contributors from 2016 who are playing elsewhere in 2017.
Following a blowout loss at Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game, Rodgers talked of the need to “reload” rather than “rebuild.” Then, he said, “We’ve just got to make sure we’re going all-in every year to win. And I think we can take a big step this offseason.”
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Based on the transactions ledger, general manager Ted Thompson has had to rebuild.
“It’s Day 1,” Rodgers said. “We’re going to wait and see how everybody looks moving forward, but I like the pieces we’ve put in.”
While Thompson has plenty of work to do in next week’s draft — notably replacing Lang, Lacy and the combo of Peppers and Jones — he did sign tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. They are going to give a potent offense a new wrinkle or three.
“I think the exciting thing is we haven’t had a lot of ‘12’ personnel around here in a while where we can really go to it — meaning two tight ends, two wide receivers and one back,” Rodgers said. “I think we’re going to have a lot more flexibility in that package. ‘12’ personnel is more of a run-pass balance personnel — and it has been throughout the league and for us the past few years. The opportunity to put two guys on the line of scrimmage and have an opportunity to run right, run left and then run all of our vertical passing game is going to be something that could definitely change and be more difficult to stop.”
More “12” personnel will continue the offensive renovation that started last season, when coach Mike McCarthy was forced to adapt to the loss of Lacy and the transition of Ty Montgomery to running back. That could put the Packers more in the mold of New England, which has run a steady diet of two-tight-end sets, starting with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to Gronkowski and Bennett last year.
“I think we saw a shift last year as we shifted away from really an ‘11’ personnel — three receiver, one tight end, one running back [almost] exclusively — to really mixing things up,” Rodgers said. “Mike did a great job of that, of really evolving the offense and trying to get more people involved as we saw it was going to be important that we didn’t just stick in one personnel group.”
Tight ends who can block and catch put defenses in a pickle. If defenses play a run-focused defense as an answer, then Rodgers can take advantage by going to the air. Last season, Bennett (55), Kendricks (50) and Richard Rodgers (30) combined to catch 135 passes. If defenses play a pass-focused defense as an answer, then Rodgers can lean on his big tight ends to block the extra defensive back. At 275 pounds, Bennett is arguably the best two-way tight end in the NFL.
“It’s going to be fun,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Martellus and I were just talking about it as we were doing some workouts and checking in today. He’s excited, just as we are. When you can get as many threats on the field — we’ve talked about it before — to space it out, make the defense worry about different situations, different positions on the field, it causes problems. What it allows us to do is create great matchups. We’re all looking forward to that.”
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.