GREEN BAY — Even the guy who is arguably the best player in the game has room for improvement. And that guy — Aaron Rodgers — even knows that.
Although the Green Bay Packers quarterback bristles at the suggestion of one area where he can improve
— absorbing fewer sacks — he also knows that as he goes, so go the Packers, who can ill afford to lose him if they fancy themselves Super Bowl contenders.
That's why both quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo and offensive coordinator Tom Clements would like to see Rodgers cut the number of sacks he was responsible for in 2012 in half. Rodgers was sacked a league-high 51 times last season, and according to ProFootballFocus.com, 10 of those were subjectively his fault.
"We've always said it's a fine line between 'Should I throw it away or should I try to scramble?' Sometimes a scramble gets you a big play, sometimes a scramble gets you a sack. So we're never going to give that up," Clements explained. "We just want to avoid the big hits and avoid the sacks that are very avoidable. If we can do that, we think it'll help us."
After suffering through injuries during his time as a backup — a broken foot that ended his 2006 season and a torn hamstring that sidelined him for much of the second half of the 2007 season — Rodgers has been durable since taking over as the starter in 2008. He played through a painful injury to his right (throwing) shoulder early in 2008, then suffered two concussions during the 2010 season, the second of which caused him to miss a December game at New England. All told, Rodgers has started 86 of 88 possible games (including playoffs), and the only other start he missed was the meaningless 2011 regular-season finale, when he was a healthy scratch after the Packers had wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Rodgers, who became the league's highest-paid player with a five-year, $110 million extension in April, said he altered his offseason workouts in hopes of extending his career and his durability streak.
"This is really the first year where I've felt like I had to do a little bit more to get myself into the same I wanted to get in," said Rodgers, who turns 30 in December. "And that's because it's not only my ninth season, but I know the most important thing for me to be able to play to the end of this contract is going to be to make sure my legs stay strong and I'm able to do the things I like to do on the field: Be athletic out of the pocket, make some plays with my feet, and be able to have that balance to throw in the pocket with my legs underneath me. So it's going to be all about getting myself in the best, tip-top physical shape I can, and getting ready to have a good season."
In terms of his game, Rodgers appears to be at the height of his powers, even though his numbers did dip last season from his MVP totals of 2011. While his quarterback rating was still the NFL's best (108.0), it did drop from his NFL-record 122.5 rating the year before. His touchdown passes dropped by six in one more regular-season start (39, down from 45) and his interception total went up (eight, from six). He still finished with more than 4,000 yards passing (4,295, eighth in the NFL), but the most telling statistic was his yards per attempt, which plummeted from an NFL-high 9.25 yards last season to only 7.78 this year.
According to coach Mike McCarthy, where Rodgers can improve the most isn't statistically, but in furthering his leadership role in the locker room. Throughout the offseason, that's just what McCarthy saw.
"Aaron Rodgers has the opportunity to grow like anybody else. It's not the level of play, per se, but his ability to raise the level of play from the people around him," McCarthy said. "He does an excellent job of that. His interaction in the meeting rooms, with the quarterbacks, with the perimeter group, is higher than it's ever been.
"It is very important for a veteran, established player to do that; our veterans do that as a whole. I think Aaron's exceptional at it. He's done a really good job of helping the younger quarterbacks and helping everybody. It's important to create that environment for growth. For Aaron, it is definitely a strength of his. He's just like everybody else, he's hit the fundamentals hard this year. He's had some little things we're working on. And I look forward to it carrying over on to the field. Just make sure he has the tools and the resources to do what he does. And that's play great football."
That's not to say Rodgers doesn't see room to improve his game, however. He said both Clements and McAdoo have been good about coaching him hard and making sure he keeps his edge.
"We watch a lot of film, so you have to be really critical of yourself from year to year and look for things you can improve on," Rodgers said. "Having a new quarterback coach helps, second year with Ben McAdoo, he's always trying to find new ways to challenge me and get me to work on different things. And having Tom in the room also helps because he's just that steady voice and we've had a lot of time together. Always working on things, trying to get better.
"I see my role kind of changing as I get older. I've taken so many (practice) reps. When I'm in there, (it's about) making sure I feel comfortable with the reps I'm taking. And when I'm out of there, especially in like a walkthrough setting, making sure I'm doing as much as I can to help the young guys out because getting those guys ready to play preseason football, I know what that's like; three years as a backup. There's a lot of moving pieces and different calls and you have to make sure everyone is on the same page. I'm trying to help out those young linemen because if those guys are more confident, the quarterback can have more time and they can look better in the preseason."