Ready for prime time

Aaron Rodgers' performance Saturday night against the Steelers reflects his solid training camp thus far, says's Tyler Dunne, who has observed Rodgers in practices daily. In fact, if Brett Favre struggles early on this season, Rodgers should be given an opportunity to start, Dunne says.

Mike McCarthy said that Aaron Rodgers quietly compares himself to Alex Smith.

Rodgers and Smith were the undisputed top two quarterbacks of the 2005 NFL Draft and highly coveted by the 49ers at the first overall pick. Then they went in opposite directions.

Smith was picked first, received a $50 million contract, and is the team's franchise quarterback. Rodgers waited in the 'Green Room' for 4 ½ hours, received a $7.7 million contract, and is currently stuck behind a future Hall-of-Famer.

But there is a better QB comparison for Rodgers, than Smith.

The 2005 22nd overall pick should look to the 184th overall pick of the 1998 NFL draft. Like Rodgers, Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck was forced to glorify preseason, embrace every practice, and swallow his pride behind Brett Favre in Green Bay.

Former Packers general manager Ron Wolf capitalized on Hasselbeck's preseason prowess by trading him to Seattle to slide up seven slots in the 2001 draft for bah badda bah ... Jamal Reynolds. Current GM Ted Thompson cannot make the same mistake, no matter how great of an offer is thrown his direction.

Capitalize on Rodgers' potential here. This season.

You can't bench Brett Favre. His arm remains missile strong, he's in great shape, and his intangibles are worth starting alone. But Rodgers' vast progression heats the situation up.

Green Bay has a brutal September schedule, facing four playoff teams in its first five games. If Favre's gunslingin' gets the best of him early and the Packers start 1-4 for the fourth straight time, Rodgers should be inserted immediately. He has earned that right.

On a night where the af2 Green Bay Blizzard could've gained more yardage than the Packers' first team offense, Rodgers was brilliant against Pittsburgh's back-ups.

The third-year pro displayed optimal poise, veteran patience, mobility and clutch execution, finishing the night with 168 yards on 18 of 27 passing with one touchdown.

It is just one preseason game, but what Rodgers did against Pittsburgh is a direct reflection of what he has done every day at training camp. Exactly like Hasselbeck, who led the Packers to a 4-0 preseason in 1999, Rodgers is taking control of the team every chance he can, whether it is preseason action or 7-on-7 drills.

Last summer, Rodgers compiled a 101.1 QB rating in the preseason. Now in his third season, his production isn't borderline starting material. It is starting material.

"Being this is my third year in the West Coast offense, my second year in Coach (McCarthy)'s offense, I'm just getting more comfortable."

Poise. That dud of a two-minute drill at City Stadium two weeks ago felt like two years ago Saturday night. Rodgers calmly orchestrated a 12 play, 75-yard drive with under two minutes left in the first half. He converted two key third downs on the drive, including a 3rd and 8 play his former-self probably couldn't pull off.

Completely relaxed, Rodgers looked right, pumped, looked left, pumped, while instinctively sliding horizontally to avoid the rush. When a miniscule passing lane finally opened, Rodgers boldly zipped a tight spiral to his favorite target, Ruvell Martin. Rodgers doesn't waste motion. His pocket presence is simplified into small, effective foot movement, built from third year poise.

Mobility. As a rookie, Rodgers was reluctant to escape from the pocket. The offensive line's cup protection often caved into a ‘V' before the quarterback's ‘Run!'-mechanism kicked in. Several times Saturday, Rodgers eluded the rush before it was too late. In the second quarter, he rolled to his left, saw green, and gained 20 yards on the ground. Later on, he rolled right, shrugged off a defensive end, peered left and fired a laser to Shaun Bodiford who made a nice catch for 17 yards. Outside of the pocket, Rodgers is keeping plays alive- possibly his best improvement from last year.

Mechanics. Rodgers' herky-jerky throwing motion is officially history. Rodgers holds the ball naturally below his ear and his release is fluid. He throws the football at a 45-degree angle, without a wasted wind up motion before throwing. It is the style popularized in western Pennsylvania by the likes of Dan Marino and Marc Bulger. Short, quick, and effective.

Clutch. Trailing 9-3, facing a 3rd and goal from the three-yard line, Rodgers placed a perfect left corner lob to receiver Carlyle Holiday. He didn't get 3rd down jitters and fade the ball out of the end zone. Again, Rodgers made it simple. He made it catchable, to the outside, realizing that a smaller DB's head was completely turned away from the ball. Game-winner.

Rodgers is ready to start…here or elsewhere.

"I will be ready to take over from day one- in a year, if that's when it happens," Rodgers said last week. "Who knows? I don't know if that's when it's going to happen. It might be in year five for me. And it might be with another team."

Remember, Rodgers is Thompson's first pick. His ‘franchise player.' More than anybody, Thompson wants to see Rodgers on the field. Maybe Thompson and McCarthy can't determine when Favre will retire. But Rodgers' value is reaching a point where it must be utilized, in the form of playing time or a trade.

Keep it in Green Bay.

Two years ago, such an argument would seem as foolish as lobbying for Ahmad Carroll over Charles Woodson. There was an obvious, concrete line between Favre and Rodgers, skills-wise and experience-wise.

Slowly, that line is blurring.

It's a Catch-22. Demoting the team's greatest player of all-time is foolish and trading a young quarterback who's peaking every day is ludicrous.

It's not recommended in everyday life, but a little John Kerry fence-riding is the solution here. Start Rodgers for a preseason game and see how he fares with first-teamers against first-teamers. Insert him into a regular season game if Favre gets interception happy. And/or start Rodgers for a game when the offense fails into a mid-season rut.

Go back-and-forth between the two a little more freely if Favre struggles. McCarthy shouldn't feel handicapped by Favre. If Rodgers does better in these situations, name him the outright starter.

At the very least, Rodgers deserves legitimate action in the regular season.

He is too valuable to be clipboardin' for a third straight season. Hasselbeck got his chance after three preseasons. Now it's Rodgers' turn.

Tyler Dunne

Tyler Dunne is a student at Syracuse University. He is in Green Bay covering the Packers during training camp for and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

Packer Report Top Stories