Aaron Rodgers has waited patiently for his chance to be the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, and that opportunity will finally arrive Monday night when the division rival Minnesota Vikings visit Lambeau Field for the season opener.
"It's exciting, it really is," Rodgers said. "I've been running out of the tunnel for three years, and now I get to be the guy coming out. It's going to be electric Monday night, a great experience, a great challenge for us on offense.
"It's definitely a little surreal. It feels like it has gone by quick, but I know the years individually went by a little slow. It's nice to be able to be the guy now. I have the opportunity to be one of the leaders of this football team and hopefully get things started on the right foot this Monday."
After serving as the backup to Brett Favre for the past three seasons, Rodgers will inherit a starting role that brings plenty of added responsibility and pressure.
"Life's different," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "Anytime you move from the 2 chair to the 1 chair, I think you're kidding yourself if you say it's not. It's you now.
"I thought he did a very good job in the No. 2 chair of supporting the starter, as far as in the game-planning, the conversations in the room. Obviously when it was with Brett, he was in the lead chair, and now that he's in the first chair, I think he does a very good job of talking with the other guys, making sure."
McCarthy emphasized the increased preparation that will be required of Rodgers, which he has already seen from him this week.
"Everything is heightened," McCarthy said. "He's on top of his checks, his run checks. He came in early on Monday just to make sure he had it before everybody else. And he needs to continue to do that. You need to continue to put in extra work.
"That's part of being the starter, and every starter I've been around has done the same. It would be nothing to walk down here later in the week and see him in there watching film by himself. He needs to do those types of things."
What Rodgers will see on film is a Minnesota defense headlined by one of if not the top tackle tandem in the league in Pat and Kevin Williams, who helped lead the Vikings to the No. 1 ranking against the run in the NFL each of the past two seasons.
The Vikings also added to their front four in an April trade with Kansas City that brought defensive end Jared Allen, who led the NFL with 15.5 sacks in only 14 games in '07.
"Their front seven is one of the best in the league, so it's going to be a good test for us," Rodgers said. "We're going to have to be diligent with the run, and stay on big Pat and Kevin, and then when we get opportunities to throw the ball, I'm going to have to be effective."
In the Packers' 34-0 win over the Vikings at Lambeau Field last November, running back Ryan Grant ran for 119 yards on 25 carries, including a 30-yard touchdown on Green Bay's first possession. Grant was the only back to run for 100-plus yards all season on the Minnesota defense.
Rodgers has not had the full arsenal of Green Bay's offensive weapons at his disposal during the preseason, with Grant sidelined the first three games with a hamstring injury, wide receiver Greg Jennings the first two with a knee injury and wide receiver James Jones for the final preseason game with a knee injury. The offensive line has also been forced to do some shuffling due to injuries to center Scott Wells and rookie guard Josh Sitton.
Even though the offense didn't have the luxury of a game with all starters in uniform, Rodgers said he is not overly concerned with the team's ability to find their rhythm come Monday night.
"It's not so much a game-to-game rhythm; it's an in-game thing," Rodgers said. "If we can get off to a good start, get things going early, and get into the flow of the game with a good rhythm and a good tempo on offense, we'll be fine."
Grant is expected to play against the Vikings, with Jones' status uncertain at this point.
"We've still got four talented guys," Rodgers said. "Mentally I think Jordy (Nelson) has done a great job. We haven't put him in too many different spots. Ruvell (Martin) is a guy who can really play all of the positions and he is extremely bright. Donald (Driver) and Greg can play just about every position as well."
Despite the changing lineups throughout the preseason, Rodgers looked impressive in his four starts, finishing 37-of-54 for 436 yards and three touchdowns with only one interception. He and the entire offense struggled in a return to Rodgers' home state of California when the Packers visited the 49ers, as the No. 1 offense generated only 46 yards of offense and four first downs in the first half in a 34-6 loss.
In a contest that Rodgers admitted took on added meaning, he said the San Francisco game provided some lessons as he looks forward to a more significant game on Monday night.
"It just reaffirmed to me the fact that this offense is structured in a way that I don't have to do too much," Rodgers said. "I just need to get the ball out of my hands quickly, and that's kind of what I got back to in Denver was just trusting the progressions, trusting the offense, and making quick, smart decisions.
"It's my job just to spread the ball out, get the ball to our playmakers, and it's their job to make plays when they are out there."
As Rodgers prepares for his first pro start in the regular season, on a national stage no less, he knows that all eyes will be on him, but isn't concerned about how that external attention will affect the team.
"I've played in a game before," Rodgers said. "Although this one means something, I played against Dallas last year. It's just going to be on a different level. I haven't played on a Monday night, but I have played on a Thursday night in Dallas on national TV.
"The pressure I think that a lot of people outside this room put on this game and this team is not going to affect us. It's the pressure that we as individuals put on ourselves to perform."