A question had come up in the receivers meeting room.
“We said, ‘Ro, go to the quarterback room and ask Aaron that question and see what he says,'” Cobb said.
It was the second day of camp. To that point, Doubs, the rookie fourth-round pick who has quickly become one of the stars of the summer session, had engaged in few — if any — conversations with the 38-year-old four-time NFL MVP.
Forgive him, then, if he thought there was a chance Aaron Rodgers might tell him to get lost.
“As a rookie receiver going to ask a Hall of Famer a question, I would say in a way it was kind of intimidating,” Doubs recalled. “They want to have me just ask him a question on his progressions. I was like, ‘OK, just go and ask him and see what kind of response you get.’”
Whatever preconceived notions Doubs had were quickly dispelled.
Even at this point in his career, Rodgers is still willing to help younger players and players at other positions. In fact, he might be even more willing to do so because he knows he’s running short on chances to get to another Super Bowl.
“I think that’s a testament to who he is as a person and more so as a player,” receiver Allen Lazard said. “He’s going into Year 18, and he’s still showing signs of growth. I think that’s very powerful. For someone that’s been around him for a few years now, it’s impressive to me that this guy is still growing and getting better and being more receptive.”
FOR THE FIRST TIME in Rodgers’ career, he’s entering a season without a proven No. 1 receiver — or as he referred to it as having “that guy.” Lazard, the fourth-year pro, is the closest thing after the Packers traded Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason and lost deep-threat receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling to the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.
General manager Brian Gutekunst signed veteran Sammy Watkins and drafted three receivers — Doubs, Christian Watson (second round) and Samori Toure (seventh round) — but didn’t make any high-profile additions.
Considering that Rodgers reluctantly returned to the Packers a little more than a year ago after an offseason in which he expressed his discontent with the organization, who knew how Rodgers would react to losing his best receiver?
It appears he has embraced it.
“His different demeanor, and how he’s been carrying himself this season has been way more of an open-door type of mentality when it comes to discussing things — especially having so many young guys who haven’t had that chemistry and don’t yet understand what he’s looking for,” Lazard said.
For years, Rodgers had been known for his tough-love approach to young receivers — something even coach Matt LaFleur admitted this offseason that he’s “witnessed” — which perhaps unintentionally limited the kinds of interactions that Doubs had with him.
“Nothing in a bad way, but that’s just kind of how things were,” Lazard sad. “Sometimes it’s hard. I’ve been in that position before. I wanted to ask him a question, but I also didn’t want to be too nagging.”
IT’S NOT JUST his offensive teammates, either.
In the middle of one practice during camp, Rodgers and cornerback Rasul Douglas stood at midfield and talked for several minutes while special teams went through their drills. This one was a two-way conversation.
“That may have looked like me talking to him, but it was as much him talking to me,” Rodgers said. “I love picking his brain because of his ability to see the game and concepts, and I think it’s important that we share both sides.”
Rodgers called Douglas “one of the smartest guys I’ve ever played,” and went so far as to compare him to Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson in that regard. Like Woodson, Douglas has shown a penchant for creating turnovers; he led the Packers with five interceptions last season.
Douglas has moved from an outside cornerback to the slot (or nickel) position this season, and he believes conversations with Rodgers will help in that transition.
“I think he determines what defense we’re in based on where I am on the field and how I react to the formation,” Douglas said. “So there was a play in practice where he got me, and I didn’t squeeze it the way I should have, and I came to him and asked him, ‘What were you looking for and what could I have done to make you not throw it or get an interception?’
“He told me what the formation was and to make sure I understand what the route concept is, and once you see it, you know you can play certain things more aggressively. He said, ‘In that case, I would’ve played that more aggressive and you maybe would’ve got one.’”
‘We’re the old people that everybody’s looking at’
WHETHER INTENTIONAL OR NOT, Rodgers has been more visible in the Packers’ locker room, too. He has regularly sat at his locker during times open to reporters. After a practice this week, newly acquired safety Dallin Leavitt could be found sitting in the locker adjacent to Rodgers’ and the two talked for several minutes about something that happened on the field.
“I want to win. Badly. You’ve got to communicate to win.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
“I want to win,” Rodgers said when asked about his approach during camp. “Badly. You’ve got to communicate to win.”
It’s not always easy for a player in his late 30s to form a connection with a rookie in his early 20s. Cobb, who turns 32 on Aug. 22, said he and Rodgers compared it to someone who returns to his high school for homecoming, and “We’re the old people that everybody’s looking at.”
“This man’s been in the NFL for 18 years; that’s a long time,” Cobb said of Rodgers. “It’s different, and you have to find different ways to communicate and different ways to build bonds and build chemistry and connect because we live totally different lives [than the younger players]. Obviously we have a common bond in football, so we have to maximize the time that we have together and pass on the knowledge.”