Even in Green Bay, where football borders on religion, fans have a tough time getting excited about preseason games. It's a dress rehearsal. The scores and statistics are meaningless. While rookies and fringe players battle for jobs, the stars and other starters work on timing and try to avoid injury and embarrassment.
Once in a while, though, a play will stand out.
That was the case early in the second quarter Saturday night at Lambeau Field. Facing a second-and-goal on the Buffalo five-yard line, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers scrambled out of the pocket, pump-faked and fired a touchdown pass to Donald Driver in the corner of the end zone.
"I thought that was a big-time play," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "You train those types of drills, throwing on the run, stepping up in the pocket, sliding to your right or left, and for (Rodgers) to put that ball where he put it and for Donald to keep his feet inbounds, that's exciting. Those are the type of plays that win football games. We just keep staying after him to be consistent. He does have the ability to make big plays. I think he's primed for a big year."
Yes, this was the same McCarthy who, moments earlier, had cautioned that "there's no reason to be striking up the band or anything like that."
Point taken, coach.
But after a 2-0 start to the exhibition season that continues Friday night in Arizona, the Packers and their fans feel pretty good about their team and Rodgers, who is entering his second season as Brett Favre's successor.
OnMilwaukee.com spoke with Rodgers shortly before training camp opened and then attended his post-game press conference after the victory Saturday night in Green Bay. The first conversation centered on Rodgers' personal life and the second was all football.
We hope you enjoy this Milwaukee Talks with Aaron Rodgers.
OnMilwaukee.com: Is training camp fun at all, or is it just a grind -- something to get through until the games count?
Aaron Rodgers: I don't think anyone really loves training camp, but it is a good bonding time for the guys and a time where you can really get yourself ready for the grind of 17 weeks and beyond; staying healthy and try and figure out what the identity of the football team is going to be like. You look forward to the preseason games, but you also just want to stay healthy through that and get to the ones that really matter.
OMC: Are you more relaxed, comfortable and confident in camp this year than last year?
AR: You didn't think I was that relaxed last year?
OMC: I think there were a few other distractions that sprung up, especially early.
AR: Every day being around the team, I think I become a little bit more comfortable in my role as one of the main leaders of this football team and as the starting quarterback, I just really want to enjoy that role and the opportunities I have to be a leader.
OMC: You've reached a point where you get almost as much scrutiny off the field as you do on it. Last year, a Green Bay TV station reported that you had gotten married when you hadn't. TMZ reported that you were out with Hillary Scott (lead singer for country band Lady Antebellum). Then, the New York Post reported that you were at dinner with a swimsuit model (Julie Henderson) at a restaurant on a night when you weren't in Manhattan. Obviously, there is a lot of attention to your private life. How do you cope with that? I think it's still pretty good to be Aaron Rodgers, but is that an inconvenience?
AR: It has just been a different transition knowing that my private life is not as private as it used to be. It is just interesting to see how much information is out there and reported on that is largely inaccurate.
I mean, start with the post on TMZ about Hillary Scott and I. That was wildly inaccurate. The same thing with The New York Times, or Post, or whatever paper reported what they reported. They print these things that are largely inaccurate and it's taken as truth and it runs all over the Internet. The next thing you know, you are getting calls and texts from your buddies.
I could be linked with less attractive people, so I don't really mind that too much. I do know Julie; she is a beautiful girl and a very nice girl. But the facts that were reported, unfortunately, are incorrect.
So unfortunately, that is part of the lifestyle that I live now. People really want to know what is going on, who I am dating, who I am spending time with. And I understand that and appreciate that to some extent, but at the same time, I enjoy keeping my personal life private because, to be honest, it is really nobody's business at this point.
OMC: Given the circumstances, do you feel an urge to bunker in, order food for delivery and become a hermit? Or do you just say, "I"m going to do what I want to do and pay the cost of fame as I go along?"
AR: I definitely do that. I still feel like I try and keep a normal life. I went Christmas shopping last year for hours at the mall. I got to talk to a bunch of different people and had people coming up to me. I still go out to dinner all the time, usually the same spots. I try and live as normal a life as as possible. It is just different when people care more about who you are seen with, or who you are dating, and where you are spending your time. Everybody has an opinion now. (Journal Sentinel reporter) Greg Bedard can comment on my sunglasses and the New York Post can try and report on who I'm dating. That is a little different for me.
Question: The offense has been impressive in the first two games. Are you happy with the way things have gone?
AR: I think we're doing some really good things. I think the key is that it starts up front. In two games, I haven't been sacked. I really haven't been touched. That gives you a lot of confidence as a passer. Then, the running game is opening holes. Guys are running through arm tackles and controlling the line of scrimmage.
As far as scheme, I think we're doing a good job mixing up the protection looks and emptying it out, blocking with seven guys, blocking with eight guys, blocking with six guys and giving the defense different looks.
As long as I can get the ball out of my hand quickly, I feel like we're going to be successful.
Question: How is the chemistry between you and the receiving corps at this point?
AR: The communication I think has been the best it's been since I've been playing. To come off on the sidelines and Greg (Jennings) will come over or Donald (Driver) will come over and we're just having some real good dialogue about what they're seeing out there and just the confidence that they have in myself and the confidence I have in them when they come over and tell me "Hey, I saw this out there. When we come back to this play, think about this ..." it just gives you confidence that you're on the same page. I think we're getting real close, especially with the tight ends.
Just getting those guys more involved will make us a more dangerous offense.
Question: You weren't in a no-huddle, but it seemed like you were getting to the line with time left on the play clock. Is that something you were working on?
AR: We want to tempo the defense, definitely. We feel like we're in good enough shape, once we get that play if Mike (McCarthy) is calling it quick and I can call the play and break the huddle with some good speed, we feel like if we're on a drive of five, six, eight or 10 plays, our conditioning will take over.
The longer I have at the line of scrimmage, the more time I have to check out of a play, to audible or to check a run from right to left. It just gives us the freedom to get the defense to try and show what they're going to do.
Question: Do you help the other quarterbacks (Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm)?
AR: From day one when they got here, I feel like I try to be as available as possible. We have an incredible quarterback coach in Tom Clements. I think he's a great teacher of the game, so along with him, when he allows me to give input ... and when I feel comfortable giving input in the meetings, they know I'm always there as a resource. Tom played the game for a number of years and was an incredible player in the CFL. I've played a season, so I have more experience than they do. I think they appreciate the input I give them.
Question: Is it strange for you to be the only incumbent starter in the NFC North?
AR: To be honest, I haven't really thought about that. But, it's strange being the oldest guy in the quarterback room at 25. Definitely.
Question: Did it get your attention that Matthew Stafford (Detroit), Jay Cutler (Chicago) and Brett Favre (Minnesota) have come into the division?
AR: To be honest, it hasn't really been on my mind. But at some point, yeah, I'll think about it.
Question: The way you're clicking, do you need to play deep into the third game (Friday night in Arizona)?
AR: I think so. You want to get to a point where you feel comfortable increasing the minutes. The third game is really the one where you want to get your conditioning down. I'd love to play into the third quarter. And depending on what Matt's status is (with his shoulder injury), it's probably going to happen.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.