Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Pressures of Aaron Rodgers

Oh, the pressure of being a starting quarterback in the NFL. And, the pressure of following in the footsteps of a legend. And, the pressure of having everyone else in the world wanting you to fail.

Aaron Rodgers had a momentary lapse of judgment in his OTA interviews today (mind you, under duress from a particularly aggressive reporter, nothing new for Packer quarterbacks), and spoke about how, apparently, at least some of the world is out to get him.

"I know the pressure I'm under. I know who I'm following. I know it's a tough situation, and a lot of people are expecting me to fail outside of this locker room. I'm trying to get the guys here to believe in me."

Now, this is an interesting quote (somewhat out of context) for many reasons, which I will attempt to enumerate.

First of all, the worst part of following Brett Favre isn't trying to do what he did on the field. It is going to be managing a rather persistent and rabid media that was spoiled with juicy sound bites from the quarterback. Rodgers was essentially asked the same question three straight times when the reporter seemed unimpressed with his politically correct responses.

Rodgers also alluded to this a couple of seconds later, in that every move he makes all season is going to be scrutinized by the media, and that he is prepared for it. "Bring it on," he says. So, in some ways, there are some kudos to be given to him for recognizing it. However, taking an adversarial tone with the media usually opens you up to having your quotes blown up by them later.

Which brings me to my second point: why is Rodgers talking about all this "pressure" he's under? Why is he concerned about what anyone else thinks besides his teammates and coaches, especially when most Packer fans are not predicting him to be a failure anyway? As a backup for several seasons, Rodgers has been able to get away with a charming smile and a glib comment here and there, but now with the starting mantle on him, it is time for him to take on the leadership role.

Being a leader, Rodgers will soon realize, does not usually entail complaining about how others are perceiving you, especially when there's no proof either way on the field as yet. Despite a sixteen-minute interview of safe, team-oriented responses, Rodgers offered up an open wound to the blood-thirsty media and the small number of Rodgers Critics out there.

Now, for many years I have been rather pro-Brett Favre, and have written many times that the Packers were in a better place having Rodgers continue to learn from the bench and allow Favre to do what he does best (which isn't always passing). Looking at fellow draftee Alex Smith, its not hard to see that the raw Aaron Rodgers playing behind a raw line trying to figure out a zone blocking scheme would not have been a smart move, and in retrospect, I think most besides the most ardent of Favre Haters will agree.

Rodgers biggest struggles in the past few years were with his ability to handle a pass rush, often taking off quickly to scramble away (opening himself up to hits), hurrying his throws (which often when straight into the ground), or simply not sensing the pressure at all (and again, taking a hit).

This was the area in which Favre excelled the most, and the one area a coach can actually tell a young player to watch and learn from Brett Favre, since you wouldn't do that with most of the other facets of his game.

That stated, Rodgers now has his time to shine. The Favre era, as much as we've loved every twist and turn of that roller coaster, has come to an end. Rodgers is in the best spot he could have been in his career: the line is somewhat stable, Ryan Grant established a running game at the end of last season, and there is a rather enviable stable of receivers for him to throw to. At no point in his other seasons could you have said this.

I am not a "Rodgers Lover", but I certainly want him to succeed. I would be rather shocked at any Packer fan who would not want him to succeed or would root against him. Yes, Rodgers is going to have to shake the injury-bug cloud he's been surrounded with, but that's no reason to hope he fails. Heck, Brian Brohm is just as raw as Rodgers was, and is considered a statue in the pocket. If Rodgers fails, and Brohm fails, this team is suddenly looking at a much earlier draft choice in next year's draft.

Legendary quarterbacks have almost always been followed by a guy who just never seemed to measure up, from Jay Fielder to Brian Griese to Mark Malone to Randy White to even Steve Young. It's almost become an expectation for the "next guy" to wither and die in the shadow of the great quarterback they are trying to replace.

But most intelligent Packer fans know that you are never....ever....going to get another Brett Favre, and frankly, most of us don't want one. A "Poor Man's Brett Favre" is going to be a nightmare, and the success of those kinds of players who were supposed to be The Next Favre have certainly not shown much success (Losman, Grossman, even Tony Romo).

Rodgers, wisely, has stated time and time again following Favre's retirement that he's not going to be the next Favre. He's going to be Aaron Rodgers, and nothing could be more perfect to say or believe. Rodgers is going to play a much different style than Favre, and no matter how much you hear Mike McCarthy say they aren't going to adjust the playbook, he will. He has to, and is a master at adjusting his offenses to meet the skills of the players he has to work with.

This doesn't mean that Rodgers is automatically a lesser player, but areas that he seems to have an edge over what Favre had(sweet spiral, accuracy) has to be balanced with what he doesn't (pressure awareness, going through his progressions).

"I am Aaron Rodgers" is what we want to hear from the guy we're giving the trust to be our starting quarterback, not some chip-on-my-shoulder grumbling during the OTA's about how so much pressure is on him. The more he gives his teammates the burden of having to build him up, the more he is going to have to keep answering questions like the ones he was bullied into responding to.

And suggesting that "a lot of people outside the locker room" are expecting him to fail doesn't exactly send warm fuzzies to those who have supported him for so long, and are hoping for great things from him this season. Maybe I am wrong, but I have to look high and low for Packer fans who are expecting him to fail.

And if he can learn another lesson from the guy he's replacing, it would be not keep feeding the piranhas, because they will just come back fishing for more.

I think that Aaron Rodgers has the tools to be a successful quarterback, and San Francisco is going to continue to regret taking the quarterback that they did in the 2005 draft. However, it may not be the difference in the players, but the difference in how the teams handled them. Rodgers is in a great position and just needs to take the reins.

Hopefully, that's what he believes, because it makes all the difference.

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