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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

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In Sports

The rookie receivers on the Green Bay Packers can look to Jarrett Boykin on how to build trust with Aaron Rodgers. (PHOTO: Packers.com)

Trust is in the details for Rodgers, receivers


GREEN BAY – Much of the Green Bay Packers training camp is open to the public, and fans take advantage, packing the bleachers alongside Nitschke Field and crowding the fence line. Even in pads, contact is limited and receivers are afforded the space to run their routes, and catch passes from Aaron Rodgers and the quarterbacks.

Those repetitions – even if just looks like a simple pitch and catch – are valuable. Even in such a relaxed looking atmosphere, real work is getting done, chemistry being built. Beyond that is that trust is, or isn't, being developed between Rodgers and the back end of the wide receiving depth chart.

"You need time, you need reps, the conversation," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. "Aaron and the whole quarterback room, their, it's obviously a primary focus of what they do each and every day is spending time with those guys, talking, the ability through the walk throughs and get the quality of reps in practice. They just need as much time as possible together."

Yet, repetitions are limited.

Counting those injured, the Packers have 18 tight ends and wide receivers on the training camp roster. Some are just training camp bodies, but the Packers are a team known for giving undrafted or late-round players a real shot at earning a roster spot, even at the expense of a more familiar name.

Every player gets his shot in practice, but even fewer do with Rodgers.

But they better know he's paying attention to what they're doing. Or not doing.

"It's really all about one thing: It's about mental preparation," Rodgers said. "The physical mistakes are going to happen. There's going to be drops at times. There's going to be a not quite on the same page every single time. But, if you cannot line up right, if you can't get the checks, and you can't do what you're supposed to do every time then there's no way you can possibly be on the field when I'm out there. And those guys understand that. I'm very demanding in that way."

Such demands are something rookie wide receiver Davante Adams, a second round pick out Fresno State, learned quickly.

"Yeah – it's not that they want, it's that they need things from you. They need you to do the right things, otherwise, I mean, you won't be out there.

"It's a lot detail that we've got to get into making sure that we're assignment sound because that's the most important thing right now is knowing what you have to do at all times."

How does a player do that however if he never actually lines up down the line from Rodgers, or ever catches a pass from him in a preseason game? It's about the mental reps, and self-created confidence that you will be catching a pass from a former NFL Most Valuable Player.

"The thing about it is any and all corrections, how we install, how we teach, every guy's in that room so they might not get an actual rep in practice with him but they have to be ready," wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. "And that's the mindset, because you never know when your opportunity's going to come where you've got to step up in that lineup and you have to play like you were the starter, or like you are the starter.

"That's the mindset from a training standpoint. You can't sit in that room and say I'm the sixth guy on the depth chart, or whatever the number you might be on the depth chart, you have the mindset that you know what, I'm preparing like I'm the starter, I'm going out there and when my number's called I'm going to make every single play."

To do that, Bennett and Rodgers said the young pass catchers must not only study and master their assignments, but also those of every potential pass-catching position in the offense. Then, you need to be able to run those routes at the proper speed and depth every time out.

"If those guys can't mentally cut it, then there's no way they can possibly be on the field," Rodgers said flatly. "It doesn't matter how talented physically they are."

Then, should the player get on the field and Rodgers asks him to move and run a different route at the line of scrimmage, he better be able to do that – and then catch the ball when it's delivered.

"We've got a great coaching staff who spends a lot of time getting these guys prepared, but they can only give them the keys," Rodgers said. "Once you get on the field it's about being able to access those thoughts and notes and the slides in your iPad and be able to transfer that on the field and play at a very fast pace."

Take Myles White. He was undrafted, and earned his way on to the practice squad at the start of last season. He then earned a promotion to the active roster in early October, getting some playing time against Cleveland on Oct. 20.

He hadn't been catching passes from Rodgers to that point, but he was taking the steps away from the field to be prepared to.

"It's always important to maximize every rep and you just want to focus on becoming the best player that you can be," he said. "If you maximize every rep, that will take place."

A week later, on the road in Minnesota and on national television, he earned his first start.

He was nervous.

Rodgers sought him out before they took the field.

Do your job, I'll get you the ball. You don't have to come out here and get 100 yards. That's not what we're asking you. We're asking you to come out here and do what you're supposed to do.

White wound up catching five passes (out of seven targets) for 35 yards.

"What I took away from it is – just like in every career – there's always steps, and you don't just jump in," White said of that game. "It's hard. A lot of people don't understand that.

"You're not just going to jump into a game and come out there and be a Larry Fitzgerald or an Aaron Rodgers or an Eddie Lacy. It's very few and slim that that (happens). Everybody else has to take the correct amount of steps. That's what I took it as, as a stepping stone to keep building."

The Packers, and Rodgers, are clearly hoping this group of first and second year wide receivers continue to take such steps through the rest of camp, and into the season.

"The mindset here (is) availability and accountability for all our guys," Bennett said. "To make sure we're maximizing the opportunity from the practice field so we're training to improve our fundamentals and techniques to put us in a position to win on Sundays."


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