Rodgers looks comfortable as the starter

The first-year starter is winning over his teammates, and says he knows many expect him to fail — and even want him to fail — as he replaces the legendary Brett Favre.

Between plays during Wednesday's organized team activities practice, Aaron Rodgers is smiling and joking with Greg Jennings, Donald Driver or whomever is within chatting distance.

At his locker, he spends about a half-hour patiently answering reporters' questions.

Later that night, he's having his weekly catered get-together at his house. He figures about half of the players will show up.

Clearly, Rodgers is comfortable as the Green Bay Packers' starting quarterback.

Now, if only that jovial, almost carefree mood carries over through the regular season. Will the pressure of replacing Brett Favre, leading a team that reached the NFC championship game last season and being a first-year starting quarterback with so much to learn and prove be too much for Rodgers?

Those, of course, are the million-dollar questions. No doubt, Rodgers has won over his teammates. But winning over teammates and winning ballgames aren't exactly related. Driver, Jennings and Co. would follow a snake-oil salesman for a crooked politician if that person gave the Packers a better chance on Sundays.

Rodgers knows the situation, and the pressure to replace a legend, better than anyone.

"I know the pressure I'm under," Rodgers said. "I know who I'm following, and I know it's a tough situation, and a lot of people are expecting me to fail outside this locker room. Maybe not expecting me, but maybe wanting me to fail. And I'm OK with that. I don't mind that.

"I just care about the 53 (players) on the opening-day roster, that they believe in me. I just need to play well and then those guys will follow me. Eventually, the fans will like me, I think. ... I just have to play well, and everything will take care of itself."

Not surprisingly, with this being the first time Rodgers has led the Packers on the field as the starting quarterback, much of Wednesday's session with reporters centered on Favre.

Does that bother him? "I know the comparisons, probably my entire career, as long as I'm a Packer and as long as I play in the NFL, my connection will be the guy who followed Brett Favre."

What does he think of Favre's flirtation with coming out of retirement? "I do hear about it second-hand. There's not much you can say about that. He obviously is retired, probably still thinks he can play, but as a football team, I think we're moving on. We've got myself, we drafted two young guys, and that's the direction we're going in."

Why was the dynamic between him and Favre so poor early in his career, and why does it seem better between him and rookie quarterbacks Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn? "(Favre) was 36, I was 21. We were 15 years apart. I'm 24 and these guys are 22, so as far as age goes, there's a little more connection there."

Only one question with a Favre connotation bothers him. Rodgers has suffered two serious injuries in three seasons as a backup quarterback. Favre took as many days off as the sun during his 16 years in Green Bay.

"I think it does kind of bother me," said Rodgers, calling the broken foot and torn hamstring "fluke injuries."

"It has a negative connotation to it and a lot of times people can say you're soft because of it. I mean, I had a broken foot and a torn hamstring. For anybody to call anybody in the NFL injury-prone is not a great idea unless you've played that position or the game for a long time because otherwise you don't really know what it's like to be an NFL player."

That one bit of tension, however, shouldn't lead anyone to believe Rodgers is uptight. To the contrary. After three years of watching the legend, Rodgers knows it's his time. And he's relishing it.

"I've been setting myself up mentally for this for a while," he said. "It's just exciting, it really is, knowing I'm going to get the first shot. I'm the guy."

Steve Lawrence is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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