GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers is back.
Well, he’s back in the building, not back on the field. The Green Bay Packers will have to keep waiting and hoping for that to happen before season’s end.
But after losing their two-time NFL MVP quarterback to a fractured right collarbone during an Oct. 15 loss at Minnesota — and not having seen him since, as Rodgers underwent surgery in Southern California on Oct. 19 and landed on injured reserve the next day — it was uplifting to his teammates and coaches to have him back at 1265 Lombardi Avenue on Tuesday as the team returned from its Week 8 bye.
“Absolutely,” said left tackle David Bakhtiari, who spent part of the bye with Rodgers in the Los Angeles area, including an appearance alongside Rodgers on Conan O’Brien’s “Conan” show. “Everybody talks about how great of a quarterback he is, but at the end of the day, he’s our franchise quarterback, but he’s also our leader. So it’s always good having that presence back in the building.”
Added No. 3 quarterback Joe Callahan, who is backing up starter Brett Hundley while Rodgers is sidelined: “Anytime he’s back in the building, it picks the team up a little bit, especially seeing him in a good mood and everything. It helped get the day started. Seeing him today, he was in a good mood. He was his normal self, upbeat. It was just good to see him.”
Rodgers, who had to stay in California after his surgery to recover, missed the Packers’ Oct. 22 pre-bye loss to New Orleans and had to watch the game on television. With most of his teammates scattered about the country for the bye week, Rodgers stayed in Southern California last week recuperating, then flew back to Green Bay on Monday, and was in the team meeting and position meetings before practice. Rodgers didn’t attend practice but did his rehabilitation work instead.
According to coach Mike McCarthy, Rodgers’ two-fold task now is to do his rehab work — “The focus is for him to get healthy,” McCarthy said — and to help Hundley and Callahan prepare for the team’s next game, Monday night against the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field.
“Aaron’s knowledge for the game and things he can take from his experience are just so valuable. I’m sure Aaron’s going to do everything he can to help prepare Brett and myself,” Callahan said. “Just any tips that he has, anything he can help with the game plan or once we’re in the game, I’m sure he’s going to be right in our ear, giving us as much info as he possibly can.
“Not too many people are at Aaron’s level – especially his level mentally. I guess he has to bring it down into some more basic terms for some of us younger guys, but he does a good job of conveying his message and giving us the information we need without overcomplicating things.”
As for when the Packers might see Rodgers on the field, McCarthy wouldn’t say — although at one point during his news briefing, he had to stop himself from saying something that might’ve sounded too optimistic, based on McCarthy’s smile as he censored himself. According to NFL rules, players placed on IR cannot practice for six weeks and cannot return to game action for eight. That means Rodgers cannot practice for another month and wouldn’t be allowed to play in a game until the Packers’ Dec. 17 game against Carolina at the earliest.
The Packers then finish the season at home against Minnesota on Dec. 23 and at Detroit on Dec. 31. Rodgers’ hope is for his team to remain in contention while he’s sidelined so he has something to play for if he can indeed return.
Asked how different Packers headquarters were Tuesday with No. 12 back, McCarthy replied, “When he walks in the room, he has great presence. So, it’s great to have him back. I think really him stepping away and being out of town, I think, really helped him deal with his situation.
“But he’s Aaron. He’s … I’m not going to say it. But he feels good about the way things are going so far.”
But McCarthy did add that he “got a full, detailed look at everything with him and Dr. (Patrick) McKenzie” Tuesday morning, which means the coach got at least some insight into the medical staff’s plan for Rodgers’ recovery.
When Rodgers fractured his left collarbone in 2013, he did not undergo surgery and missed seven games, returning in time for the regular-season finale.
While he thought his friend’s spirits were higher Tuesday, Bakhtiari also pointed out that Rodgers’ ultimate desire is to be back on the field.
“Everyone wants to contribute to win games. We’re not just here to mess around,” said Bakhtiari, who missed four games earlier this year with a hamstring injury. “Everyone in this building, I’d like to think, cares about your job, cares about how all these other guys are counting on you. He knows we count on him. It’s not his fault at all, but you do feel down on yourself. I get injured, I can’t stand it. You feel awful. But a lot of times, you can’t control it.”
What Rodgers can control now is how much he helps Hundley, who has struggled since Rodgers went down, completing 31 of 59 passes (52.5 percent) for 244 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions (40.5 rating). Hundley stayed in Green Bay for most of the bye week and McCarthy said he met with his new starting quarterback the day after the loss to the Saints and again at midweek while the rest of the players were away.
“(Rodgers) plays the game at a different level, a different pace. The biggest thing he can get to Brett is just to play a little faster,” McCarthy said. “We’re not going to try to win the volume game, that’s for sure. That’s something as a football team we need to do a better job of. We need to play faster, both offense and defense. So Aaron can assist in that.
“Just in the meeting today, there’s always a suggestion or a moment you’re watching the tape and going through the Lions defense … he’s played a number of games against those guys, so he understands the history of their defense. But the fact of the matter is we’ve got to get dialed into it in game plan, and that process is the same for Aaron that it is for any quarterback. He’ll definitely help Brett with that.”