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Aaron Rodgers Must Remain Patient With Packers' Young WR Group

Brent SobleskiAugust 18, 2022

Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Aaron Rodgers' frustrations over how his new-look wide receiver corps disappointed during the Green Bay Packers' ongoing practice sessions bubbled to the surface after a few weeks of training camp.

"The young guys, especially young receivers, we've got to be way more consistent," Rodgers told reporters Tuesday. "A lot of drops, a lot of bad route decisions, running the wrong route. We've got to get better in that area."

Trust plays a major role in the success of the four-time league MVP. All quarterbacks must have faith their receivers will be in the right spots in the offensive structure. Rodgers is often more demanding than a typical quarterback since he's willing to publicly admonish his pass-catchers.

But the young wide receivers he's criticizing in training camp are his best chance of reaching another Super Bowl. Development takes time.

"You keep dropping the ball, you're not going to be out there," Rodgers stated. "It's going to be the most reliable guys that are out there. The preparation and the job responsibility is most important. There's going to be physical mistakes, like we've talked about, but if you're going out there and dropping the ball and somebody else behind you is in the right spot all the time and catching the ball, that guy's going to play."

Davante Adams isn't coming back after being traded to the Las Vegas Raiders. Rodgers can't play Linus anymore and carry his security blanket wherever he goes. Yet the 169 targets that went to the game's best wide receiver last year must go somewhere this season.

The Packers' wide receiver room isn't littered with older, established veterans. Aside from a 31-year-old Randall Cobb, there's Sammy Watkins, who is now 29. But the eight-year veteran hasn't played a full slate of games since his rookie campaign thanks to multiple injuries. Allen Lazard, Amari Rodgers, Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs are 26, 22, 23 and 22, respectively. The latter two are rookies, while Lazard and Rodgers have yet to serve as a focal point.

Unless the Packers decide to sign Odell Beckham Jr.—who won't be ready for the start of the regular season thanks to an ACL injury—Cole Beasley, T.Y. Hilton or Will Fuller V, they aren't getting extra help at wide receiver. Even those veteran options are suspect based on where they're at in their careers.

Everything falls on the current group, which has significant potential, growing into their roles and Rodgers having the patience to oversee their advancement without getting overly frustrated along the way.

"The greatest gift I can give my teammates, in my opinion, is to be able to show up and to be someone who can model unconditional love to them," Rodgers said during an interview on the Aubrey Marcus Podcast (h/t MSN's Nina Zdinjak). "They won't care about what you say until they know how much you care."

And the young players know they need to be better.

"The offense is growing," Lazard said. "It's coming along and everything. We had a lot of false starts, a lot of missed signals and stuff like that today, which is not the standard that we've had, especially in recent history. So I think there's a lot to improve on from that standpoint. But overall, I thought we did well."

This crop also brings legitimate tools to the table.

Lazard is taking over as the team's WR1 after finishing last season with 40 receptions for 513 yards and eight scores. How do we know? Because Rodgers said so. The 38-year-old quarterback also called Lazard a "premier slot receiver in the league," per the Green Bay Press-Gazette's Ryan Wood. As Zach Kruse of Packers Wire noted, Lazard finished second overall last season with a 145.2 passer rating when targeted from the slot.

Nic Antaya

The 6'5", 227-pound Lazard fits the new trend of power slot receivers who aren't the traditional shifty targets. They have the size to overwhelm nickelbacks while also contributing as essential blockers as part of the run scheme.

On the outside, Doubs has been the talk of camp. This year's 132nd overall pick proves he's a downfield threat with each and every practice. Prior to this year's draft, Nate Tice of the Bleacher Report Scouting Department summed up exactly what the Packers have seen from Doubs during training camp:

"Nevada's offense utilized him most on vertically stemmed routes from the outside, and he is best working north and south, as he has average lateral quickness and doesn't consistently make defenders miss in a phone booth.

"Doubs flashes good burst and balance with the ball in his hands to split defenders on screens and intermediate throws. He has good catching range where his body control is highlighted and is able to consistently make catches on throws at all angles away from his body.

"However, Doubs does have concentration drops crop up on throws at his body and in a crowd."

As good as the fourth-round pick has been at getting over the top of defenders and making tough catches, drops can still be an issue. Those must be cleaned up so they don't occur during games that matter. It's clear, however, that Rodgers is excited about what Doubs brings to the offense.

AP Photo/Morry Gash

Two weeks ago, according to Peter Bukowski of Locked on Packers, the signal-caller suggested "the only WRs who made as many 'wow' plays early in camp as Romeo Doubs wound up 'in the top 10 in Packers receiving history.'"

Amari Rodgers, meanwhile, barely played as a rookie after being a third-round pick. He caught only four passes in 16 games, and his primary contributions came on special teams. He's ready for more this season and got in better shape to provide a spark.

Per Associated Press writer Steve Megargee for the Merced Sun-Star, the 5'9" wideout is down 16 pounds since the start of the offseason program and now weighs 202.

"I can run for a longer time and not feel tired and not feel tight," Rodgers said. "I can go out there and really just run all day, and that's what you want to be."

The second-year receiver can be used in a variety of manners in and out of the backfield because he's always been strong after the catch and creating in space.

Christian Watson is the X-factor.

The Packers traded up to acquire the physical marvel in this year's second round. This year's 34th overall pick posted the 12th-best relative athletic score among wide receivers over the last 35 years, according to Pro Football Network's Kent Lee Platte.

He's a 6'5", 208-pound target with 4.36-second 40-yard-dash speed and a 38 ½-inch vertical. He's a raw mound of malleable clay, though, especially after missing a portion of training camp with a knee injury.

AP Photo/Morry Gash

"Christian, he's going to be a work in progress," Aaron Rodgers said. "It's good to see him out there, good to get him through the walkthroughs. I told him I'm going to be testing him every single day in the reps that he's in there to try and get him thinking about the right stuff when he's out there ... So it's encouraging because—what do we got, four weeks till first game or so—I think all of them might have a legitimate opportunity to play."

Watson's size and athleticism coupled with Doubs working outside of the numbers to help Watkins—while Lazard is paired with Cobb and Amari Rodgers to work the middle of the field—gives Aaron Rodgers options. He must be willing to distribute the ball, even if mistakes occur along the way.

An Adams-like receiver isn't on the roster to demand the bulk of the targets. The group is young with significant upside. Rodgers must understand the position is in transition and use those around him to their fullest.

"I think I just fell back in love with football the last few years. It's due to a mindset but also the people. I really do," he told NBC Sports' Peter King. " ... All the people who make this thing so fun. I love people. I love my teammates so much. I love the opportunity to do this."

A demanding personality doesn't automatically equate to tough love. Rodgers can help in the process as others potentially blossom around him.

If he doesn't, the Packers offense won't be nearly as effective and the future Hall of Famer can kiss any chance of another Super Bowl appearance goodbye as he leaves the game to continue his own journey.

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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