In order for his wideouts to run their routes to perfection, Aaron Rodgers puts them through a unique screening process.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Behind the dark green tarps surrounding Clarke Hinkle Field, Aaron Rodgers turns his shoulders and gestures. The wide receiver down the line of scrimmage sees the hand motion. Not only must he have seen it — he has to know what to do with the signal. Is it real? Is it a decoy? He’d better know.
Inside the offensive meeting room within Lambeau Field, Rodgers highlights a route concept. It’s the tight end he’s speaking about, and he walks through what he’s seeing, what he wants accomplished on the play. But it’s not just about the tight end. The receivers had better be listening.
These are lessons, taught from the beginning of team activities in the spring through the regular season. And the tests are coming.
Perhaps it’s that same day. Maybe Rodgers will circle back on them in a week. Or six. Tests must be passed, or a wide receiver isn’t getting many reps with the starting quarterback, let alone an official pass on game day.
Rodgers is often asked about his trust in receivers, and it can feel like an ethereal concept. He makes it anything but. There’s no way to get it unless it’s hardearned.
Study the opponent, meet, break it down. Rodgers has the control and he pauses the video after the snap.
“Do they score?”
It’s yes or no, but also a quick accountability check. Did you study? Do you know it?
Each week, Rodgers and the offense review his hand signals for the game. And it’s more than just a finger twirl or pantomiming smoking — it can be their entire offensive language. One play might have three signals. And some might have meanings modified so as not to telegraph their intent to the defense.
They must be memorized, immediately. On the field, a miscommunication could lead to an incompletion or worse: a busted connection that ends up with a turnover.
The day before a game, the entire offense meets to go over signals. Every position group on the offense has to know them, but receivers get Rodgers’ extra attention. He calls veterans and rookies to the front of the room and quizzes them. If you aren’t quite up to speed, well — there is little mercy.
“Aaron would pick on me,” laughed former Packers receiver Brett Swain, who was drafted in 2008 when Rodgers became the starter. “Usually you change a person from week-to-week. This week Donald (Driver) would go. This week Jordy (Nelson) would go. The next week James (Jones) would go. We got to a point where week in, week out, Brett would go. Until I knew every single hand signal. It got to a point where there was no way I was going to miss it. As a young receiver, you miss those little things.”
There are other tests. Take the self-review of a single Packers play as an example. Rodgers runs it on screen and explains what he sees. The message, in the moment, might be to tight end Jimmy Graham. But Graham isn’t the one being taught.
“If I’m talking to Jimmy about something, if you don’t write it down, you better lock it away,” Rodgers said in an interview with the Journal-Sentinel. “Because if you make the same mistake, I’m going to be disappointed because I just covered that with somebody else.”
There’s more. Routes are designed for a reason — each not only has its own life, but they play off one another. If a receiver runs his pattern incorrectly, it can affect others. And in turn, the quarterback’s vision and
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates with wide receiver Davante Adams (17) after a touchdown.