Answering fastballs with bunts of humility

With Brett Favre rumors swirling, new starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers passes first stress test, Packer Report's Tyler Dunne writes.

The world around him is changing by the minute.

And Aaron Rodgers isn't changing at all.

After the Green Bay Packers' opening training camp practice Monday morning, Rodgers had the choice to address the media at the podium instead of his locker to give himself a breathable circumference from the nationwide slew of reporters. You know, peace and structure instead of stress and claustrophobia.

Nahh.

Rodgers declined that option from the team's public relations department. With his locker suffocated by herds of lights, cameras and tape recorders — which fought for position 20 to 25 minutes before he arrived — a smiling Rodgers carved through the gigantic heap like a tailback, assumed his position and humbly answered fastballs for nearly a half-hour. All the while, never escaping his laid-back, go-lucky self during a time that should extract his inner rage. 

You sure wouldn't think there was a three-time MVP on a warpath to steal his starting job. But that's been Rodgers' approach through this ordeal: quiet, non-confrontational and lighthearted.

His relationship with 2005 San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy? "Although he didn't pick me in '05, we put that behind us and have really worked well together."

That impromptu hug from Justin Timberlake at the ESPYs? "That felt great. He smelled really good."

Oh, and of course, the constant news alerts whipping this drama into new directions every minute? "I always watch ESPN, but I change it to TNT and watch my "Law and Order" these days."

Disaster was averted Monday — at least from Ted Thompson's vantage point. Brett Favre was nowhere near Clarke Hinkle Field for training camp. The situation is far from settled. Thompson and McCarthy didn't hint at how close the team was to trading Favre, and signs are starting to point toward a Favre comeback at some point this week.

Through it all, the GM and coach have maintained Rodgers is their man — a trust the quarterback reciprocated often at his locker Monday.

In one five-minute, rapid-fire segment, Rodgers confidently repeated five times that the team has assured him he's their starter. Favre or no Favre.

When he wasn't cracking a joke, Rodgers quietly took on each question that easily could have struck nerves.

Why does this team trust you so much?

Can they really bench the guy that built this place?

What do Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson see that everyone else doesn't?

"It's just confirmation of March 17 when we came back and started working together with me as the starter," Rodgers said. "It's exciting being able to lead these guys and knowing that the team is behind me."

Football-wise, Rodgers said he's entering camp in the best shape of his NFL career. He worked out with James Jones and Brett Swain in California during the July Lull, and said his teammates have been supportive of him throughout the past couple of weeks.

Funny and professional off of the field, Rodgers didn't seem shell-shocked on it. On Monday morning, he hooked up with his favorite receiver, Ruvell Martin, on a deep ball and a zinger of a deep out. In pads six hours later, Rodgers continued to look sharp and confident. He rolled right and hit James Jones with a 15-yard pass across his body as Michael Montgomery closed for a sack — one of those fundamentals-defying plays that Favre made routine.

Still, the spotlight wasn't on Rodgers' physical performance, rather his mental psyche. Remember, this is the guy who sat idly in the green room into the late evening on draft day in 2005.

It's a cliché, no doubt. But it's truth. Rodgers has learned there's no use trifling with outside forces ... even when it's turning your life into a twilight zone.

"It's hard not to hear about the stuff," Rodgers admitted. "But I realize it's out of my control, so I'm just trying to focus on the things I can control."

McCarthy said he's been impressed with Rodgers' demeanor under the bizzaro world script that's unfolded. Steven Spielberg would've deemed this an impossible delusion.

"How can you ignore all this? I think he's dealing with it fine," McCarthy said. "These are external things that we have to deal with it, and he's doing everything he's supposed to do internally, I can promise you that."

Any mistake, any ill-advised decision, any microscopic mistake Aaron Rodgers makes will be magnified because of Thompson's reluctance to welcome back the guy who took the team within one pass of the Super Bowl last season. Bench Favre? Rodgers — for no doing of his own — is in the eye of the storm. For better. For worse. For, well, possibly one of the most controversial decisions in franchise history.

If the GM's words hold true and Rodgers strangleholds the job, there are a lot of heads on the line.

But again, such realistic gloom-and-doom forecasting doesn't seem to faze Green Bay's new, laid-back starting quarterback. He doesn't dodge the fastballs. Rather, he lays down bunts of humility.

"Honestly, it's out of my control," Rodgers said. "I can control playing well, and hopefully I will, but I know that 16 games is a long season. You may not be your best every one of those games. ... I know the guys in the locker room will support me. That's really the only opinions that matter most to me. Obviously, I want the fans to cheer for me, and if we win games, they can't help but cheer for us."

And then, the world around Rodgers finally would change for the better.

Tyler Dunne is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at tydunne07@yahoo.com.


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