Teams that can get ready the fastest will have an edge early in the season
GREEN BAY - Every NFL team faces the same situation, but Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't hesitate to characterize preparation for the 2020 regular season as a significant challenge.
Players had no on-field workouts in the spring, only virtual meetings. Training camp is underway, but padded practices won't start until mid-August, and there will be no preseason games.
As the Packers finished their first walk-through Monday with the veteran players who have cleared COVID-testing protocols, Rodgers noted how condensed all the work will be with Week 1 at Minnesota roughly 40 days away.
"Where it used to be a nine-week offseason, a training camp, four preseason games ... we've got a lot to do in a short amount of time," Rodgers said in a video conference call with media late Monday.
"The urgency is definitely up with us."
For Rodgers and the Packers' offense, that means getting the rookies up to speed as quickly as possible, transitioning to veteran free agent Rick Wagner at right tackle, and establishing a pecking order at receiver behind Davante Adams with Devin Funchess opting out of the season.
Rodgers acknowledged some rookies who could be counted on from the draft - second-round running back AJ Dillon and third-round tight end Josiah Deguara are two prominent acquisitions - may have larger roles later in the season than earlier.
All the virtual meetings in the spring were valuable for Rodgers to go through the entire playbook with Head Coach Matt LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and QB coach/passing-game coordinator Luke Getsy. He appreciated the extensive conversations and believes they'll pay off.
Continuing those conversations with his coaches and teammates will take on added importance in camp because there's only so much time for so many reps. Translating it all to the field in such a shortened time frame won't be easy.
"We're going to have to accomplish a lot. We're going to have to find a way to get the speed of our play up very quickly," he said.
"I think it's going to put a stress on every team, and the team that's able to deal with it the quickest will probably come out the hottest at the beginning. As we learned last year, it's about peaking at the right time, starting off fast but then maintaining it throughout a long season. Again, we're hopeful that we can play the entire season."
That could depend in large part on how players conduct themselves when away from all the safety rules and regulations of the team facility.
Individual responsibility has been and is being stressed in every meeting, Rodgers said, and the reminders around the facility are ever-present.
Back in the spring, Rodgers was hoping games this fall might still be played in front of the usual crowds. Now that it won't be happening, he called it "very strange" and "a little bit weird" to think about playing at Lambeau Field and other stadiums with limited or no fans.
Five of the Packers' eight road games, beginning with the opener at Minnesota, are scheduled to be played in domes, which are traditionally the toughest environments for visiting teams. Whether home-field advantage will even exist in any meaningful form is unknown.
"It'll be strange to play, if that's the case, to play in some of these venues that over the years have been really, really loud ... some of these domes that are really, really tough places to play," he said. "How it affects the communication, if they're allowed to pump in noise or music or who knows.
"I can say personally it will be very, very strange and sad to not see a full Lambeau every Sunday at home."
All that said, Rodgers never considered opting out on the season and said he's "comfortable" with everything that's been established to keep the players safe.
His 16th year in the NFL and 13th as the Packers' starting quarterback will be unlike any he could have imagined, but he's already enjoying being back with his teammates and getting things started.
"I savor every moment, every season. I don't take any of it for granted," he said. "There's a lot of things that are strange compared to the last 15 years I've been here, but ... just seeing the energy and the smiles and the laughs, that really makes it fun."
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