It’s a new year with new and unusual challenges for NFL players. Veterans are dealing with a drastically different offseason than they are used to, but for rookies just entering the league, there is no past precedent that they have to refer back to.
For Jordan Love, AJ Dillon, and Josiah Deguara, this training camp is all about acclimating to the Packers’ offense and getting ready to contribute if and when their number is called. Each of these players has had opportunities to work with a living legend, however, and each has found different ways to absorb the wealth of knowledge that Aaron Rodgers brings to the classroom and the practice field each day.
Running back AJ Dillon, the Packers’ second-round draft pick, has some good role models within his own position group to look to, and he spoke highly of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams’ work ethic and talent when talking to reporters via Zoom on Thursday. But he knows that catching the starting quarterback’s eye is important, especially as he works on his hands and pass protection.
“Any time I do get any kind of word from Aaron, I just take it and really pay attention to what he’s saying because I know what he’s saying is going to make me ten times better,” Dillon said. “I’m just trying to limit my mistakes and play loose, and if I do make a mistake, do it at full speed.”
Helping to keep Rodgers upright will be a critical component to earning significant playing time as a rookie, and Dillon had some good and bad moments in pass pro drills on Thursday, when the Packers practiced at Lambeau Field. Dillon said the coaches worked with him on “keeping my base in space,” adding that the staff has been eager to see him work in all facets of the passing game. “The coaches have done a great job giving me reps out there, putting me in situations where I haven’t been exposed to and eventually me getting comfortable there.”
Third-round pick Josiah Deguara, meanwhile, is more likely to have Rodgers throw him the football instead of hand it to him. Like Dillon, he is eager for the opportunity to work with the two-time MVP: “Being able to just be in the same huddle as him, it’s awesome to be able to learn from him,” Deguara said.
It’s not just the on-the-field aspects of football that impress Deguara either. He mentioned Rodgers and fellow tight end Marcedes Lewis as making strong early impressions on him for their work ethic and professionalism off the field. “Obviously Cedes, being I think his 15th year, it’s crazy to see how he does things and the same thing with Aaron,” he said, specifically noting their approaches to recovery and workouts as things to emulate.
Jordan Love gets the most face time with number 12, of course, by virtue of playing the same position. For now, however, Love understands that he is there to learn so that if something unexpected happens to Rodgers, he’s ready to go. The best way to do that, however, is taking in as much information as he can from Rodgers in the quarterback room: “It’s great for me just being able to sit there and be in the same room as him,” Love said. “Just to hear how he thinks about plays and go out to practice and watch him put it together, it’s awesome to be able to see and take in.”
For now, it appears that Love appears content to sit back and just absorb everything that Rodgers does and says. “I’m just kind of sitting back in the meeting room, taking a seat behind him and hearing what he has to say.”
After a decade and a half in the NFL, Rodgers certainly has plenty of perspective and knowledge to impart on the young players around him — even to a player who was ostensibly drafted to be his heir. It’s clear that he is putting that knowledge out there, and thankfully the rookies know that it’s their job to be a sponge and soak it all up during this bizarre summer.