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After crack in foot, Hayward gets first crack at starting job

Jul 31, 2015 -- 11:30pm
Photo/Getty Images 
Casey Hayward is getting the first crack at the starting left cornerback spot.

GREEN BAY – Casey Hayward had a screw inserted into his foot during the offseason, and he isn’t sure if it’ll stay in there for the rest of his life or be surgically removed at some point.

All the Green Bay Packers cornerback knows is this: Right now, his foot feels OK, and he’s working with the starting defense.

“The bone is healed. My foot is healed. I just have to deal with a little nagging pain here and there,” Hayward said Friday after deflecting an Aaron Rodgers pass intended for Jordy Nelson that turned into a Morgan Burnett interception in 11-on-11 work. “I’m not going to do any complaining about it. I’m going to stay on my rehab, make sure my cleats are right, fitted right, things like that.”

Hayward said his foot didn’t affect his play last season, but he did feel it toward the end of the year and noticed it more after the season ended. That led to an exam and the surgery when a stress fracture was found.

He missed virtually all of the offseason program but said he was cleared to be full-go about two weeks ago. Through two days of training camp, he’s worked with the starters opposite No. 1 cornerback Sam Shields and ahead of his would-be challengers.

“I’m up to speed. I’m a vet so I know this defense. I know how to play it, I know how to play this game,” Hayward said. “I know the ins and outs of offenses so I can read some of the plays before they happen or while they’re developing. It’s just me getting in shape. I think that’s the ultimate goal is getting in top shape, getting in better shape every week and keep trusting my speed and my legs.”

Hayward, who missed nearly all of the 2013 season with a hamstring injury suffered just before camp, said he doesn’t think the foot will be an issue that lingers.

“I feel good. I’m making plays already in this camp,” he said. “I’m feeling healthy. As long as I stay on top of my rehab and keep doing those things throughout the year – not just throughout camp but throughout the year – my body will hold up.”

$40 million man Cobb fine with staying on returns

Jul 31, 2015 -- 11:13pm
Photo/Getty Images 
Randall Cobb says he is fine with returning punts when the Packers need him to do so.

GREEN BAY – Randall Cobb isn’t interested in playing it safe. If the Green Bay Packers need their $40 million man to return punts during the season, he’s in.

So even though the fifth-year wide receiver caught a big payday this offseason, and even though safety/nickel back Micah Hyde has been very effective in the role, Cobb says he wants to return punts when called upon this year.

“Special teams is important.” Cobb said Thursday after another practice in which he fielded punts along with Hyde and other candidates for the job. “We understand offense puts the points on the board a lot of the times. Defense, they’re going to make the stops. But special teams, one play can change the outcome of the game.

“I feel like I can make a big return. We have guys that can make big returns as well, but we bring different kinds of return ability to the table. So just being able to use us in different ways, and it’s all about field position. We’re trying to create better field position for our offense.”

As a rookie in 2011, Cobb returned 26 punts averaged 11.3 yards per punt return and had an 80-yard touchdown. In 2012, he returned 31 punts and averaged 9.4 yards with another TD. Last season, he returned 14 and averaged 8.0 yards.

Cobb also returned kickoffs in 2011 and 2012 and has done that job in the playoffs as well. He has three career returns (two punt, one kickoff) for TDs.

There’s a school of thought that Cobb has become too valuable to risk on returns, but coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t subscribe to that theory.

“When you’re designing plays and you’re looking at distribution of opportunities, you want to give Randall the ball,” McCarthy said. “So, he’s definitely an option as a punt returner.”

The most likely scenario would have Cobb occasionally on returns, perhaps when McCarthy feels the team needs a spark or based on field position.

Cobb suffered a broken leg in 2013 that cost him 10 games, and as he has pointed out multiple times, the injury didn’t come on a return. It came on an offensive play.

“Football is a contact sport. I’m going to take shots. I took shots at receiver last year. I took shots in the return game. That’s all part of football,” Cobb said. “It happens. It’s part of our game.

“I just know when my number is called, I’ll be on the field.”

Packers limit Sitton's workload

Jul 31, 2015 -- 10:55pm
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Josh Sitton’s training-camp snaps are being limited for preventative reasons.

GREEN BAY – Josh Sitton doesn’t exactly love this time of year.

“Training camp isn’t always the funnest thing in the world,” the Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl left guard said.

No, it’s not, and while Sitton certainly needs work to get ready for the season, with a history of back issues – and the first in-pads practice of training camp looming in the morning – Sitton had a light workload during the Packers’ second practice of training camp Friday.

And it probably won’t be the last time he takes it easy during a practice this summer, as he prepares for his eighth NFL season.

“Josh Sitton has played a lot of football here,” McCarthy replied when asked why Sitton’s snaps were limited. “I think it’s smart to give younger players an opportunity.”

Those younger players getting work at left guard Friday were JC Tretter, Lane Taylor and Josh Walker, and Don Barclay has taken snaps there during the first two days of camp, too.

Sitton, who has missed practices during previous training camps and during the regular season to save his back, also played through a painful toe injury during the second half of last season and refused to have surgery on it after the year was over. He understands the importance of keeping the Packers’ starting five together, since they missed one combined start last season (by Bryan Bulaga in Week 2) due to injury.

“We’re excited about our opportunity. We have a lot of talent here,” Sitton said. “We know what we can do if we stay healthy and just keep moving forward.”

Training camp report No. 2: Friday, July 31, 2015

Jul 31, 2015 -- 3:15pm
Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac puts his guys through a drill before the pads go on Saturday morning.

GREEN BAY – Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ second practice of training camp on Friday:

Thumbs up:  While the first two practices of training camp are, by rule, not in pads, it’s difficult for there to be any genuine excitement about anything other than the fact that football is back and the road to Super Bowl 50 is underway. But while the first two practices may feel ho-hum to observers, that should change on Saturday morning, when the pads come on and the hitting starts.

Now, this isn’t the Vince Lombardi Era, or the Forrest Gregg Era, or even the Mike Holmgren Era, when practices had live tackling and violent collisions. But everyone will feel the intensity ratchet up several notches when the half-line inside run drill and the 1-on-1 pass rush/pass blocking sessions.

That said, Packers coach Mike McCarthy felt that, given the limitations, the first two days went as he’d hoped.

“The first two practices, the things you really pay close attention to are the structure, the drill work. Make sure things are done right,” McCarthy explained. “Just getting all the little things the way you want it. Players are competing. The first two practices, it’s gone well. I feel good about the effort, it’s excellent. The energy is excellent. The workload is where it needs to be, so we’re off to a good start.”

Thumbs down:   With every player-specific question McCarthy received the past two days – How has so-and-so looked to you? – you could sense the coach was inching toward a Herm Edwards moment. (Hello!) Writers need the coach’s thoughts on players they want to write about, but McCarthy wants more of a body of training-camp work before saying much about anyone. So let’s be clear that no lasting judgments are being made before the pads have even come on.

That said, it’s clear that rookie QB Brett Hundley has a ways to go. He’s working behind Aaron Rodgers, Scott Tolzien and Matt Blanchard at the moment, although he did get a ton of reps in the long jog-through period at the end of practice Friday. But in an 11-on-11 period, he eluded the pass rush and made a bad decision, throwing a ball up for grabs that S Morgan Burnett picked off. Now, Rodgers threw an INT later in practice, so it happens. But it’ll be interesting to see how Hundley develops in the coming weeks.

Play of the day:  Rookie first-round pick Damarious Randall made the kind of play during 11-on-11 on Friday that grabs your attention. When Blanchard threw a deep ball down the left sideline to undrafted rookie receiver Jimmie Hunt, Hunt went up over Randall and appeared to be making a terrific catch for a big gain. But as Hunt came back to earth, Randall swatted the ball from his grasp, turning what could have been a big play into an incompletion and a win for the defense.

“That just shows what type of athlete he is, what type of player he can be,” said fellow CB Casey Hayward, who is working with the starters ahead of Randall. “He’s been doing a great job since he’s been here and hopefully that trend stays going up and he can help this defense out.

“He’s a confident young guy. He’s got a bright future. Hopefully that trend keeps going up.”

Camp confidential:  If you got your hopes up for the Packers making a trip to London to play the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016, you can forget it. It ain’t happening.

Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy said last week that he’d talked to Jags owner Shad Kahn and after that conversation, he didn’t think the Jaguars would want to give up a home game – and certain sellout – because of the way Packers fans travel. Turns out, Murphy was right.

Jaguars president Mark Lamping told the Florida Times-Union Thursday that the team will be hosting the Packers in Jacksonville next season. The Jaguars played San Francisco and Dallas at London’s Wembley Stadium the past two seasons and will play Buffalo there on Oct. 25.

The Packers haven’t traveled to Jacksonville since 2008, and based on the NFL’s scheduling formula, their next trip there wouldn’t be until 2024.

“We get the Packers here in Jacksonville so infrequently,” Lamping said. “They have such a national following. We have a lot of people here in Jacksonville that are Jaguars fans, but also fans of the traditional NFL teams. So we look forward to that game being played here in Jacksonville.”

Packers Playlist:  “Homegrown” by Zac Brown Band, “Evenflow” by Pearl Jam, “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon, “Unbelievers” by Vampire Weekend, and “A Little Less Conversation” by Elvis Presley vs. JXL were the songs played during the regeneration periods Thursday.

Injury report:  WR Jared Abbrederis, who is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in training camp last year, departed practice on Thursday and was diagnosed with a concussion, McCarthy said. Rookie G Matt Rotheram suffered an ankle injury Thursday and was being evaluated Friday. CB Quinten Rollins (hamstring) remains on the Non-Football Injury list, while OLB Mike Neal (abdomen), WR Ricky Collins (heel) and RB John Crockett (ankle) are on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Short yardage:  The Packers defensive backs had a strong second day of camp. Not only did Randall break up multiple passes, but Hayward deflected a thread-the-needle throw by Rodgers and Burnett picked it off. “I thought the DBs did very well. They got their hands on the balls a bunch,” McCarthy said. “We saw Randall had a nice play over there on the left boundary. That’s what you’re looking for.” … McCarthy is limiting veteran G Josh Sitton’s snaps in 11-on-11 work, rotating JC Tretter, Lane Taylor and Josh Walker in his place with the starters throughout practice. “Just being smart with him,” McCarthy said. … When the Packers went to their base defense Friday, Clay Matthews worked inside. But when they were in nickel, Matthews was outside and rookie ILB Jake Ryan got the call next to Sam Barrington.

They said it:  “Having all our coaches out there in the stands during practice, it’s always a lot of fun.” – Randall Cobb, on fans filling the Ray Nitschke Field bleachers.

Practice schedule:  The Packers will practice again at 8:20 a.m. Saturday, but in pads for the first time. There is no practice on Sunday.

Abbrederis diagnosed with concussion; history makes it a concern

Jul 31, 2015 -- 12:01pm
Jared Abbrederis suffered a knee injury early in training camp last year and now is out with a concussion suffered Thursday.

GREEN BAY – If Jared Abbrederis could just get through the first week of training camp healthy, maybe the Green Bay Packers wide receiver’s NFL career would take flight.

The ex-University of Wisconsin star suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during the first week of his first training camp last summer, and now he’s been sidelined with a concussion he suffered during Thursday’s camp-opening practice.

"I didn’t realize how hard he had hit his head until we saw it on film," fellow wide receiver Randall Cobb said. "That’s tough. You’ve got a guy like him that, he could be a great player. He’s got the opportunity but he’s had a couple things come up here in the past couple training camps. I’m just hoping he gets healthy and can get back out there."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after Abbrederis was absent from Friday’s practice that the second-year receiver was “going through the protocol” following the concussion. Abbrederis fell hard after an interception during Thursday’s practice but stayed on the field for another half-hour or so before talking to the athletic training staff and leaving Ray Nitschke Field.

Abbrederis, who is listed on the Packers’ roster at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, does have some history with head injuries from his days playing for the Badgers. Although it’s unclear how many officially diagnosed concussions he had, he was diagnosed with one in a September 2012 against Oregon State that caused him to miss the following week’s game against Utah State, and said he had a “mild concussion” in a game against Penn State in November 2012 but was cleared to play in the Big Ten Conference championship game after that.

Asked at the time by the Wisconsin State Journal’s Tom Mulhern if having two concussions in one season concerned him, Abbrederis replied, “No, I don’t take too much into that.”

Abbrederis also suffered a head injury during an October 2013 game against Northwestern but then-Badgers coach Gary Andersen never officially called it a concussion.

Nelson cleared for takeoff after 'hip impingement' surgery

Jul 30, 2015 -- 10:02pm
Jordy Nelson looked good on the field and on his bicycle on Thursday.

GREEN BAY – After his good friend and favorite target missed virtually all of the Green Bay Packers’ offseason practices following hip surgery, Aaron Rodgers was happy to see Jordy Nelson back on the practice field Thursday.

“Was he out there?” Rodgers quipped following practice.

Yes, yes he was, and that’s good news considering he caught 98 passes for a franchise-record 1,519 yards last season.

“Today, the little that I watched him 1-on-1, it looks like he hasn’t missed a beat,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Really, how he feels as he progresses through camp will be the first hurdle that he needs to get over. I thought the staff and Jordy took the right amount of time.”

Nelson said doctors told him that he has a genetic issue he termed a “hip impingement,” a condition where the bones of the hip are abnormally shaped and, because they don’t fit together perfectly, they rub against each other and cause damage to the joint.”

“So over years and years of playing sports, [because] it's just rubbing together, [I] had some issues,” Nelson said. “So it just needed to be cleaned out. It never necessarily bothered me, it was just postgames and stuff, I could feel more [discomfort]. But by the time of Wednesday's practice, I was good. By the time Sunday was here, I was fine. It was more of a recovery thing, and needed to get cleaned out, so we're good.”

'Happy' to see Favre, Rodgers hopes to see Starr at Thanksgiving

Jul 30, 2015 -- 9:41pm
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Having heard good news about Bart Starr’s stem-cell treatments, Aaron Rodgers is hoping to see his friend on Thanksgiving.

GREEN BAY – While Aaron Rodgers said Thursday that he was “happy” to see former teammate Brett Favre at the ESPYs earlier this month and that he’s looking forward to seeing Favre again at the Thanksgiving game on Nov. 26, it’s another of Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers quarterbacking predecessors that he really wants to see.

Bart Starr.

A USA Today Sports story published Thursday details Starr’s remarkable recovery – through stem-cell therapy – from the two strokes and heart attack he suffered last fall. Starr’s wife, Cherry, tells the paper that Starr, who was unable to walk or feed himself before the June stem-cell treatments, can now do both. He also spoke briefly on a video played at Favre’s induction into the Packers Hall of Fame on July 18.

“It’s great to hear that Bart’s doing better,” Rodgers said after the first practice of training camp Thursday. “He’s a great guy, he’s been a great friend over the years and a great supporter. He’s been great for our charity and it’s been fun to spend the few times we’ve gotten to hang out with him and his wife. I’m just excited to hear he’s doing better and hope he’s able to get up here. Thanksgiving would be amazing to have him and Brett and myself be able to get together.”

Starr, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977, Favre, who is expected to be selected next year, and Rodgers, whose career arc has him trending toward Canton as well, have never been photographed together. Together, they make up arguably the best three-quarterback combination any NFL team has ever had.

Starr's son, Bart Jr., said during Favre's induction that his father has made it his goal to be back at Lambeau Field and walk out with Favre on Thanksgiving night.

Rodgers, meanwhile, said he and Favre joked at the ESPYs but that he did not catch Favre’s induction ceremony on TV. Rodgers was playing in the annual American Century celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe and did not attend the Lambeau Field event.

“I heard everything went great here, and I’m sure he got an incredible reception,” Rodgers said. “I missed his speech but … he was excited about it. It’ll be fun to have him back for the Thanksgiving game. That’s put another layer to that. Thanksgiving, Chicago Bears, Brett’s number going up. That would be a great time. It’s fun to see him. He’s a character. He’s always cracking jokes. I heard his voice over my shoulder, the first time we got to see each other, I knew it was him.

“It was good to see him.”

Rollins sidelined with hamstring injury

Jul 30, 2015 -- 8:58pm
Quinten Rollins’ hamstring injury didn’t prevent him from riding the bike of one young fan Thursday morning.

GREEN BAY – Quinten Rollins isn’t overly concerned, but the Green Bay Packers rookie cornerback doesn’t want his right hamstring injury to keep him off the practice field for any longer than absolutely necessary.

The second-round pick from Miami (Ohio) said Thursday that he suffered the injury about two weeks ago while working out on campus. He immediately called the Packers athletic training/medical staff, who told him to back off his workouts and are now holding him out after flunking him on his physical Wednesday and placing him on the active/non-football injury list.

“Obviously, Day 1 of training camp – my first training camp – I obviously want to be out there competing with my teammates. At the same time, the trainers know what they’re doing,” Rollins said. “There’s obviously a reason they’re not trying to rush me back right now too soon. Whenever they feel like I’m ready, I’m full of trust and belief in them that they’ll get me back out there.”

Two years ago, cornerback Casey Hayward – with whom Rollins is set to compete for a starting job – suffered a hamstring injury right before coming to camp and ended up missing the first few weeks, then re-injured it during a preseason game against Seattle and wound up missing all but three games that season. That’s the last thing the Packers want to see happen to Rollins, especially after how good he looked in minicamp and organized team activity practices.

“It doesn’t help [to have him injured],” McCarthy said. “All the reps that he participated in the spring, he did a lot of good things.”

With Rollins out, Hayward worked with the starters at cornerback opposite Sam Shields, and when Shields left practice with what McCarthy later said was a problem with his shoe, it was first-round pick Damarious Randall who got the call.

Training camp report No. 1: Thursday, July 30, 2015

Jul 30, 2015 -- 3:04pm
Clay Matthews worked with the inside linebackers during a blocking sled drill early in practice.

GREEN BAY – Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ first practice of training camp on Thursday:

Thumbs up:  It’s clear the Packers have no interest in reliving their NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks. You can almost feel players cringe whenever it’s brought up – not because they are still depressed about the outcome, but because the questions have jumped the shark – and the stock answer from coach Mike McCarthy and others is that it’s a new team and a new year. That’s true, but it’s not that new of a team, considering that 21 of the 22 players who started that Jan. 18 game in Seattle are still on the roster. Having re-signed several key veterans – WR Randall Cobb, RT Bryan Bulaga and FB/folk hero John Kuhn – the offense returns almost completely intact, expectations are high, as they should be.

“We’ve got all 11 starters back on offense and obviously re-signing John and Bryan and Randall was big for us, but we’ve got some young guys to add into the mix, too. So it’s fun,” QB Aaron Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP, said after practice. “I’m sure you guys will have your own expectations and oddsmakers do as well, but we have high expectations for ourselves and we push each other to be great. And I think it starts in training camp. when the chemistry is coming together, the team’s coming together and you start to figure out who the key players are going to be, who the guys are that are going to make those jumps from Year 1 to Year 2. And, we expect our veterans to continue to play at the level they’ve played at.”

Thumbs down:   While he understands the rules and cares about player safety as much as any coach does, you can tell McCarthy isn’t a huge fan of the practice rules set forth by the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association, which require two practices in shorts, helmets and shells before having a practice in pads. For the Packers, that means the first in-pads practice will be Saturday, followed by a league-mandated day off.

McCarthy, who has talked repeatedly about wanting to get off to a fast start after three straight years of 1-2 starts, wanted to start fast in camp, too, but he’s following the rules and made sure the first two practices focused on areas where pads weren’t vital to evaluation.

“You have to tailor to the guidelines of what the practice restrictions that are in place,” McCarthy explained. “. It’s an install day for us. We installed No. 1 last night and worked on it today. We’ll install No. 2 tonight. We’ve tailored these installs -- offense and defense and special teams -- to the shell practice. You’ll obviously see a lot of perimeter focus and things like that. When we get to Saturday’s padded practice, you’ll see more in-line work.”

Play of the day:  Even with his new global view of practice, you know McCarthy doesn’t like seeing his quarterbacks throw interceptions. But the coach also likes to see young guys make splash plays, and that’s exactly what undrafted rookie CB LaDarius Gunter did when he intercepted an Aaron Rodgers pass intended for WR Jared Abbrederis. Gunter, who had an impressive offseason and came into camp positioned to make a strong bid for a roster spot, went undrafted in large part because of a slow 40-yard dash time but has good size (6-foot-1) and should be able to chip in on special teams, too.

“He’s done some good things,” McCarthy said. “I think he’s gone in there and competed well. Like a lot of our young guys, he’s flashed. But we’re in Day 1.”

Camp confidential:  While McCarthy seldom shares why a player is absent from practice, when the coach has used the phrase he used Wednesday about TE Andrew Quarless – that he was gone for “a positive personal situation” – that has historically meant the birth of a child. That’s why it was disconcerting to hear McCarthy’s tone and word choice change so dramatically 24 hours later, after Quarless was absent from the first practice of camp.

“I do not have a feel for when he will be back. He’s dealing with a very difficult, extremely difficult family situation right now,” McCarthy said. “So he’s with his family and he’ll be gone as long as he needs to be.”

Packers Playlist:  “T-Shirt Weather” by Circa Waves, “Wagon Wheel” Darius Rucker, “The Wolf” by Mumford & Sons, “You Really Got Me” by Van Halen and “Dream Police” by Cheap Trick were the five songs played during the regeneration periods Thursday.

Injury report:  Abbrederis, who is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in training camp last year, fell hard after an interception and departed practice shortly thereafter. He did not return, and while McCarthy wasn’t sure what the former Badger’s injury was, McCarthy did not think it was related to his surgically repaired knee. Rookie CB Quinten Rollins (hamstring) opened training camp on the Non-Football Injury list, while OLB Mike Neal (abdomen), WR Ricky Collins (heel) and RB John Crockett (ankle) opened camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. While McCarthy said Neal, who is recovering from a hernia, feels like he is ready to start practicing, the medical staff is holding him back. McCarthy said Crockett is further away from being cleared than the staff had expected after hurting his ankle in June.

Short yardage:  CB Sam Shields left practice for a time midway through Thursday’s session but later returned to his spot with the No. 1 defense. As it turned out, it wasn’t for an injury. “I think originally they thought it was an ankle, but talking to ‘Flea’ (head athletic trainer Bryan Engel) walking off, he was looking at some different shoe options.” … McCarthy liked the first practice’s tempo but not the mental errors he saw. “I think we had nine pre-snap penalties, 12 penalties overall. Definitely a lot to clean up,” he said. … Kicker Mason Crosby was 6 of 8 on field-goal attempts during practice, and the two misses came when Cody Mandell, who’s competing with regular holder Tim Masthay for the punting job, was holding. One of those misses sailed so far left that it hit the scoreboard. Crosby was good from 33, 36, 43, 47, 48 and 50 yards out and missed from 40 and 45. … When Clay Matthews was in his usual outside linebacker spot, converted OLB Nate Palmer, who missed all of last season, was the first man up inside next to Sam Barrington. “I think his ability to play multiple positions will really help us and really help him,” McCarthy said. … Former safety Charlie Peprah, who was a starter on the 2010 Super Bowl XLV team, is at training camp as a scouting intern. When Scott Tolzien intentionally threw a ball out of bounds on a scramble, an alert Peprah snagged it on the sideline. … According to’s Rob Demovsky, aka “The Punting Professor,” Masthay averaged 48.0 yards and 4.28 seconds of hang time while Mandell averaged 45.3 yards and 4.38 seconds on their six punts each. … Former UW-Whitewater quarterback Matt Blanchard was the No. 3 quarterback, ahead of fifth-round draft pick Brett Hundley, on Thursday.

They said it:  “I’m always aware of what I’m doing physically. But I am 31, and I feel great. I’m not 35, 36, 37 or 38. I don’t know what this pitch count is all about. But I’ve iced my arm probably less than five times in my entire life, I’m very happy with the gift I was given with this right arm and it doesn’t give me any problems.” – Rodgers, on McCarthy saying on Wednesday that the quarterback would not be on a pitch count during training camp.

Practice schedule:  The Packers will practice again in shells at 8:20 a.m. Friday. The first practice in pads will be Saturday morning, in accordance with NFL rules.

2015 Most Important Packers No. 1: Aaron Rodgers, QB

Jul 29, 2015 -- 11:59pm
Photo/Getty Images  
Aaron Rodgers won his second NFL MVP award last season and is at the peak of his powers at age 31.

GREEN BAY – The chip isn’t gone, but it takes up considerably less space on Aaron Rodgers’ shoulder than it once did. The lack of Division I scholarship offers coming out of high school, the draft-day snub, the awkward transition from Brett Favre understudy to unpopular successor – the Green Bay Packers quarterback hasn’t forgotten those times, but given what he’s accomplished, it’s a little harder to use the “nobody believes in me” narrative nowadays.

But that’s not to say that Rodgers doesn’t have doubters to provide him with some additional fuel for his fire, even after winning his second NFL most valuable player award.

“I think a lot of times people expect players to reach their peak and then be a diminishing player. And I think the challenge is to plateau at your peak – to get to the top of your game and stay there,” Rodgers said during a Q&A session during minicamp last month. “I think that is where you really get respect from people. Because I think a lot of people are expecting – some even hoping – for you to fall, expecting or hoping that one of these years – I know the other three teams in the division and their fans and players – are hoping every year that we fall off, I fall off.

“I think that’s the exciting challenge, to be able to do it year-in and year-out. Because that consistency is where you really grow your legacy as a player. And there’s a lot to be said about that.”

Why he’s important:  Rodgers is the reigning NFL MVP, and the V stands for valuable, so yes, Rodgers’ importance is self-evident – even though the Packers’ backup spot in far better hands now with Scott Tolzien than it was two years ago, when Rodgers cracked his collarbone, missed seven games and a cavalcade of quarterbacks followed.

Although he wasn’t quite as otherworldly as he was in 2011, when he won his first MVP, Rodgers numbers were so, well, Rodgersy: He completed 341 of 520 passes for 4,381 yards with 38 touchdown passes and just five interceptions for a passer rating of 112.2. In the process, he helped the Packers to a 12-4 regular-season record and an NFC Divisional Playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 11, despite the torn calf that initially occurred at Tampa Bay on Dec. 21 and plagued him the rest of the year after he aggravated it Dec. 28 against Detroit in the regular-season finale.

If he delivers:  It goes without saying, but if Rodgers stays healthy behind one of the league’s best offensive lines and with all of his skill position go-to guys back, he has what it takes to win a third MVP and put the Packers back in the Super Bowl mix by season’s end. Not only that, but their offense would certainly have a chance at the franchise record for points in a season (560, set in 2011). That would certainly constitute plateauing at his peak.

Asked if he thought Rodgers could keep playing at such a high level, new playcaller/associated head coach Tom Clements said he could. Why? “He’s a competitor No. 1, he takes care of himself, he has great physical ability, and he’s playing a position where you can play maybe a little longer than other positions,” Clements replied. “And as you get older at that position, even though you might still maintain your mobility, because of your experience, you don’t have to move around maybe quite as much. I know that happened with me as I got older. You know the game better, you can see what’s going to happen, so sometimes you don’t have to scramble out, even though you can still do it. He still does it very well and I’m confident he’ll be able to do it for as many years as he wants to do it.”

If he disappoints:  For all his accomplishments, Rodgers takes his team’s playoff failures personally, including his own less-than-stupendous performances. He was masterful in three of the Packers’ four victories en route to the Super Bowl XLV title, but the Packers’ 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 playoff losses came when he was just so-so. Some of that may be circumstantial, but Rodgers’ expectations are to play at an extremely high level regardless of what’s happening around him.

It will be interesting to see whether the changes in the offensive staff – Clements taking over the play-calling, Edgar Bennett becoming offensive coordinator, Alex Van Pelt adding wide receivers to his quarterback responsibilities – have a positive or negative effect on the MVP.

Quote, unquote:  “The relationship between the play-caller and Aaron Rodgers is of critical importance, and that’s a big part of the decision. Aaron has an excellent working relationship with Tom and Alex Van Pelt and really all of our offensive assistants, and Edgar and I will be part of that from his offensive coordinator position. The fit with Aaron is of the highest priority and that’s why I thought this was the right decision.” – Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, on giving up the play-calling and how it impacts Rodgers.

The Most Important Packers of 2015 series presented by Orthopaedic Associates of Wisconsin
     The Most Important Packers of 2015 list is not a list of the best players on the team’s roster. Rather, the primary factors are the individual player’s talent, the inherent importance of the position he plays and the team’s depth at the position. Think of it as a list of the players the team can least afford to lose if it wants to return to the Super Bowl. The list was formulated through offseason conversations with players and coaches, as well as statistical reviews and player evaluations by and others.
     Agree? Disagree? Chime in via social media at the ESPNMilwaukee Facebook page  or on Twitter to @jasonjwilde@ESPNMilwaukee  or @ESPNMadison.
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