Sweat the Small Stuff
Aaron Rodgers is one of the most accurate and efficient quarterbacks in NFL history. His coach says he arrived at camp in 'the best shape I've ever seen.' What's the Green Bay star's offseason secret? Revealing that, plus reader mail
GREEN BAY, Wis. — When I go from camp to camp every summer, I often ask what players did in the offseason to get better. In the Packers camp, the emphasis hasn’t been as much about skill improvement. The mantra has been about injury-prevention, and conditioning to avoid injuries. With a player like Clay Matthews, that means conditioning his troublesome hamstring injury, which has robbed him time in each of the past two seasons. But it was interesting Monday when I asked coach Mike McCarthy about Aaron Rodgers’ improvement.
“He has always come back in great shape, but this year it’s a little different,” McCarthy said before the Packers went through a private practice. “He did different things, and he’s in the best shape, ready to go, that I’ve ever seen him in.”
On the field, you could see a little different Rodgers—a leaner, more lithe and sinewy physique, particularly in the upper body, than I remembered from past camps. There’s no carryover, at least from anything I saw, from his broken collarbone last year. He threw the ball hard and with his usually sharp accuracy. After the 130-minute practice, working on specific things for the Green Bay opener at Seattle in 23 days, Rodgers took his quarterback group and ran eight sprints, leading the way in each.
Time marches on for Rodgers. He’s 30 now, and though it seems his football life just started, he’s in the middle age of what’s shaping up to be a historic career. His career quarterback rating (104.9) is the best ever, 7.7 points higher than Peyton Manning’s. His interceptions percentage—1.8 picks per 100 throws—is the lowest of any active passer. His yards per attempt, 8.2, is the best of any quarterback playing. Only Drew Brees (65.9 percent) has a better completion rate, and that’s just by a smidge—Rodgers’ is 65.8 percent.
Think of this, to put Rodgers’ career in some perspective: His rating, accuracy, yards-per-attempt, touchdown percentage and interception percentage all are better than Peyton Manning’s. Not only is he efficient, but also he’s efficient downfield. His yards-per-attempt number is such that he has to be throwing a bunch deep, and he’s doing that without many of those throws resulting in interceptions, which shows how accurate he is throwing deep. That’s rare.
And with six or seven prime years left, barring injury, he’ll have the Packers in position to be contenders every year. Green Bay goes to the starting line this year knowing if the defense can rebound to be a top-10 group with the addition of Julius Peppers, Rodgers will give them a chance to play into late January. Or farther.
So this off-season, in keeping with the Packer way of ramping up the conditioning, Rodgers took up yoga, among other things.
“I worked with a group in Westlake [Calif.], with a lot of NFL guys,” Rodgers said by his locker Monday afternoon. “It was fun. Different types of training. Uptempo stuff. Some yoga mixed in. Some boxing. Running the sand dunes there at Malibu Canyon. I paired that with my attention to nutrition.
“In the first three months of the offseason, I did a ton of yoga. I hadn’t done that much of that before. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. The stretching, the atmosphere, the group setting, a teacher helping you get the maximum flexibility. Hot yoga. Very hot. Lots of sweating. Tell you what: I felt so great after those sessions. My sleep improved—my sleep patterns, every night. My energy improved. I didn’t have to drink coffee as much the next day. I like to drink coffee. On some days, it’s a necessity for me, to get going, to get a little jolt. Here, it wasn’t necessary, doing yoga three days a week. I love it. I mixed up my training in Westlake. It helped me. I feel a lot better right now.”
I asked him about the numbers, and how he was able over time to be so efficient downfield while keeping the turnovers down. (Touchdown passes: 188. Picks: 52.)
“It’s working in an imperfect environment,” he said. “I like to do drill work, and in drills, it’s exaggerating the most difficult way to do the work. I like to throw from different platforms. I feel like to win in this league you have to be very accurate when the settings are perfect. When you have a clean pocket, when you’ve got room and space and a receiver you can see, you have to be perfect. But who can hit the throws when you are forced to slide off the spot, run full speed to your left. Who can make those throw accurately? Those are the throws I like to work on in practice, so when you get in the game, you say, ‘I’ve already made those throws.’ I expect to be accurate on those throws as well.”
We’re watching an impresario play, in mid-career. Because Rodgers is not a look-at-me guy, we don’t appreciate him enough. We often don’t appreciate players like this fully until they’re gone. But anyone who throws 101 touchdowns with 20 interceptions over three seasons should be appreciated, and immediately. It’s going to be great to watch the opener, and to watch Green Bay try to catch Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC, regardless of the outcome in Seattle on Sept. 4.
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Now for your email:
MY FAULT. Why are the Buccaneers fans treated as second class citizens by The MMQB? Last Monday we were told because Peter was already over 9,000 words we had to wait until Tuesday’s column for items related to his camp visit because we didn’t make the cut apparently. Tuesday came and no mention again, this time an editor’s note apologizing that “news happened” but it would be included in next week’s Monday column. Well it’s Monday, and guess what? STILL NOTHING!!!! This time not even a cursory note providing a new date to break this promise once again. Do you believe after two promises it is now OK to just drop it and forget the whole thing?
—G.W., Dunedin, Fla.
You are right. My mistake. This is something I should have written by now:
Performer of the Tour. I watched the Bucs for two-and-a-half hours on a recent toasty afternoon, and the best player on the field the day I saw them was Josh McCown. That’s going to elicit some chuckles from the crowd, because it’s not popular to think someone who has started one season in the NFL—2004, for Arizona—could succeed for a team in something other than a keep-the-seat-warm capacity. Maybe he can’t. I suppose history would say it’s an extreme long shot. All I know is that in the practice I saw, McCown dropped a perfect 42-yard bomb into the hands of Mike Evans deep downfield, threw four or five other perfectos to the sidelines on a rope, and looked every bit the part of a starting NFL passer.
I think it’s fashionable to say a guy who started five games for the Bears and played in eight more last year was just a stopgap. Maybe he was. But completing 67 percent of his throws in 224 attempts, with 13 touchdowns and one pick … is that a fluke? Is that not worthy of thinking that a player has grown and matured and taken coaching and learned from smart offensive minds and now might be able to be a winner in the NFL? Or should we think what Josh McCown was at 24 is what he is at 35, and what he forever will be?
All I know is what I saw: McCown was the best player on the field, confident and hard-throwing, for one day, and I want to see more. I’m intrigued by what the Bucs will be this season if the line protects McCown.
SEASON TICKET COMPLAINTS. You mentioned briefly the cost of preseason games and the fact the top players are only in a series or two. As a season ticket holder in Cleveland I get fleeced every year by being forced to pay full price for two meaningless games. My solution is to put a face value on preseason games for what they are worth: $10. Then adjust the face value of regular season games. If I choose to not go to preseason games I can sell for true value. If I choose to sell a couple of regular season games I can try to get face value for the tickets. The NFL has got to remember it is popular because of the fans.
—Sam Meuler, Medina, Ohio
Your email speaks for thousands of fans, Sam. Thanks for writing it.
WHO BUILDS THE TRADITION? The flaw in your argument on compensation for college football players is the idea that the players bring in the revenue. They do not. It is the tradition that does. Who is the most famous Texas A&M player, and what is the best selling A&M jersey in Texas? Johnny Manzel? Nope. The 12th man (a special teams walk-on).
Who did Texas A&M ask to phone scores of big-money alums and supporters after winning the Heisman? Who helped raise millions for Texas A&M to build a giant new football complex? Was that the “tradition,” or was it a real, live person?
ON THE EXTRA POINT ISSUE. I’m having a hard time understanding your enthusiasm for more difficult extra points. How often do we see fantastic, hard-fought games marred by errant late field goals? Are we clamoring for great games to be derailed by missed extra points, too? If the NFL brass really thinks lack of excitement around current extra points is hurting the product, and it’s obviously not, why not just make one point automatic and make teams only try for the two? Of course a missed two-point attempt would still prevent the extra 1 from being tacked on. I think most would accept this change over more frequent missed XP attempts.
In 1912, the fathers of the fledgling sport of football were inventing the scoring system and said they thought a kick near the goal post after a touchdown should be worth one point. I don’t know what the percentage of made points after touchdown was, but it was not 99.6 percent. Last year in the NFL, the percentage of made extra points was 99.6 percent. It has become a waste of time. A total, uncompetitive, waste of time. So the league is trying to figure out if 45 seconds after every touchdown should be spent on something no one thinks is either worthwhile, competitive or entertaining. That’s what this is about. Everything is on the table, including keeping the current system, which, God help us, I hope does not happen. But we shall see.
YOU SHOULD HAVE HEARD THE ONES I DIDN’T INCLUDE. The quotes from Andy Benoit made me laugh so I hard I spilled my coffee, which is a precious commodity at 4:40 a.m. To atone for making me spill my coffee, please make a quote (or two!) from him a regular part of your column.
—Mike, Muskoka, Ontario
Well, Mike, the hardened state trooper from Wisconsin who pulled us over got Andy’s attention while we waited for him to dispense justice. Here is what Andy said: “He probably goes home, eats dried meat and potatoes and stoically tells his wife about his day.’’ And then his thoughts, following a viewing of an air show in Michigan, when we drove along and saw an airliner leaving the Detroit airport: “Look at that pathetic commercial airliner, slogging through the air like a fata–.”