Aaron Rodgers get­ting tested by de­fense to mixed re­sults

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Brown (6-5).

Rodgers has been work­ing hard to es­tab­lish a con­nec­tion with Gra­ham, who — if ev­ery­thing goes the way they think — will make it very tough to de­fend the end zone when the quar­ter­back is out of the pocket. Rodgers has al­ready found there’s a large win­dow in which to throw with the big guys.

“We have added some veteran play­ers to the group, which gives us that feel that a younger player hasn’t quite fig­ured out and the ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially in an area like the red zone,” Rodgers said. “I think it’s go­ing to re­ally help hav­ing Marcedes and Jimmy in that area.

“And then Da­vante (Adams) be­ing a big guy, I look for him to con­tinue to take a jump. That’s an area where Jordy (Nel­son) ob­vi­ously was a red-zone se­cu­rity blan­ket for us and had a lot of touch­downs based on lit­tle sub­tle things we would do or talk about dur­ing the week.

“Now (Adams) nat­u­rally can take that role as a guy who can play in­side and out­side for us and be a threat in the red zone.”

Rodgers said he has been im­pressed with the way the run­ning game has worked even with Aaron Jones and De­vante Mays (in­jured Fri­day) out with ham­string pulls. A main rea­son for that suc­cess is the health of the of­fen­sive line, which stands to get bet­ter if right tackle Bryan Bu­laga re­turns to form af­ter suf­fer­ing a torn ACL last year.

All of which makes it seem like the Packers’ of­fense should be bet­ter this year. But cham­pi­onships aren’t handed out un­til Fe­bru­ary and the Packers won’t know if they’re as good as they hope un­til the games start be­ing for real.

In the mean­time, there are those in­ter­cep­tions.

“I’m work­ing on things in train­ing camp,” Rodgers said in de­fense of those picks. “I’m work­ing on throws, whether it’s look­ing or no-look­ing, try­ing dif­fer­ent plays that we we’re work­ing in.

“We’ve done a medium over­haul of some of­fen­sive con­cepts, so (I’m) work­ing on some new stuff and try­ing to get on the same page with re­ceivers.”

And so far, he is not be­ing cheated out of any snaps with which to do it.

Green Bay — Aaron Rodgers doesn’t typ­i­cally need a lot of game ac­tion to pre­pare him­self for the reg­u­lar sea­son.

And com­ing off a bro­ken right col­lar­bone suf­fered Oct. 15, there was go­ing to be a “pitch count” in prac­tice so he wouldn’t stress his arm.

But some­where be­tween bal­anc­ing cau­tion and need, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has had Rodgers work­ing harder than he ever has. Or at least that’s the way it feels. “The old pitch count seems to be kind of thrown out the win­dow,” Rodgers said half-jok­ing last week Fri­day. “But I feel fine. My arm never re­ally both­ers me. It seems like we’re tak­ing a num­ber of reps.

“In the past where it may have been kind of 1s, 2s, 3s and then back to 1s (with the or­der the dif­fer­ent units are on the field), now it’s kind of like 1s and then 2s and then 1s and then 3s and 1s and then 2s. So, it feels like we’ve taken a lot of reps.”

In a slight change from pre­vi­ous years, McCarthy has pit­ted his No. 1 of­fense al­most ex­clu­sively against his No. 1 de­fense, hop­ing the ex­clu­sion of back­ups and rook­ies would lessen mis­takes and al­low the play to func­tion the way it was in­tended.

Per­haps the change is be­cause he and his staff rewrote the play­book this off-sea­son and want to make sure the changes they made are sound. Or per­haps it’s be­cause he wants the de­fense to be chal­lenged while it learns firstyear coor­di­na­tor Mike Pet­tine’s scheme.

What­ever the case, Rodgers is be­ing chal­lenged phys­i­cally and men­tally to mixed re­sults.

Rodgers has seven in­ter­cep­tions in seven prac­tices, which is a high num­ber for him. He also has made some spec­tac­u­lar plays that sug­gest he’s more than ready for the reg­u­lar sea­son.

“I feel good about the way we’ve been play­ing on of­fense, and per­son­ally I feel like I’m in a good rhythm,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers said fac­ing Pet­tine’s de­fense has chal­lenged him, es­pe­cially with some of the blitzes. The scheme is de­signed to cre­ate a free rusher while at the same time switch­ing up and dis­guis­ing cov­er­ages.

Not many teams scheme to get free rush­ers, Rodgers said, but the Min­nesota Vik­ings are one of them and he has felt some of the same type of heat from Pet­tine’s unit. The Packers have a long way to go be­fore hav­ing a de­fense the cal­iber of Min­nesota’s, but Rodgers no longer has the lux­ury of know­ing ev­ery inch of for­mer coor­di­na­tor Dom Ca­pers’ play­book.

“The pro­tec­tion el­e­ments for of­fense are re­ally chal­lenged by his de­fense, which is great for us; it’s great prac­tice for us,” Rodgers said. “And on the back end, they run a num­ber of dif­fer­ent cov­er­ages, so there’s dif­fer­ent looks.

“We’re not just see­ing the sim­i­lar stuff, guys in sta­tion­ary po­si­tions. They’re mov­ing around, they’re dis­guis­ing cov­er­ages.”

On Fri­day, Rodgers had one of his bet­ter prac­tices and was par­tic­u­larly sharp dur­ing a five-play span in­side the red zone. He threw for TDs on four of those plays: from 19, 7, 5 and 3 yards out.

The best of them all was on fir­stand-10 from the 19-yard line when he stayed pa­tient in the pocket, looked left and then sent a pass on a straight line to­ward the right pylon. As rookie re­ceiver Equanimeous St. Brown made his break and turned his body up the field, the ball was there. It nearly matched the no-look heave he threw for a 26-yard touch­down to Geron­imo Al­li­son at the end of the 2-minute drill Thurs­day.

“You don’t have too many prac­tices around here where he doesn’t make that throw where you’re just like, ‘OK, file that onto the li­brary,’” McCarthy said. “That’s the way you want to teach it.”

A lux­ury that Rodgers is en­joy­ing is the ad­di­tion of some tall tim­ber in this re­ceiv­ing group. The Packers added two 6-foot-6 tight ends in Jimmy Gra­ham and Marcedes Lewis and three rookie re­ceivers who go 6-3 (J’Mon Moore), 6-4 (Mar­quez Valdes-Scantling and St.

JIM MATTHEWS / USA TO­DAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Packers quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers has been tak­ing more reps in train­ing camp than in pre­vi­ous sea­sons.

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