The Green Bay Packers have three rookie wide receivers fighting for roster spots this offseason, and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn't afraid to be blunt about his attitude toward their contributions.
Rodgers told reporters last week he thought some of the team's younger wideouts were "piss poor" during practice ahead of a 31-17 win over the Tennessee Titans. The veteran passer circled back to the comment Monday to say he's not worried about possibly hurting anybody's feelings by saying exactly what he thinks, per ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky:
"I hope we're not that soft. I hope we can hear comments or read comments and not get offended by things. It's a professional environment; it's not a personal environment. The things I'm saying, I don't have some vendetta against any player. I care about winning, No. 1, and I'm going to say and do the things that I feel like can advance us. It's going to be tough at some points. It's not a popularity contest all the time. Obviously, as a human, you like being liked and appreciated, but I'm trying to win games because that's my job."
Rodgers added that ultimately it comes down to the receivers themselves to make the necessary improvements: "You get to this league, and to stick around, you've got to be self-motivated. So as a leader, you try to inspire, but the motivation to change and to improve has got to come from within."
Green Bay's receiving corps isn't radically different from the one Rodgers has grown used to over the years. But the Packers did release Jordy Nelson in March without signing a similarly experienced replacement.
Instead, the Packers are counting on some improvement from third-year pass-catcher Geronimo Allison, who has 35 receptions for 455 yards and two touchdowns in 25 appearances. The team also selected J'Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown in the 2018 NFL draft.
Regardless of whether Rodgers' comments played a role in their performances, both Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown played well in Green Bay's preseason opener. Valdes-Scantling was the game's leading receiver (five receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown), while St. Brown caught three passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.
Rodgers acknowledged he's becoming "older and grumpier" when he was critical of his receivers.
His general attitude is understandable. Rodgers turns 35 in December. His and the Packers' Super Bowl window isn't slamming shut, but it's slowly closing. Especially after missing more than half of the 2017 campaign, Rodgers can ill afford to see his team go through another lost season.
Some tough love could be exactly what one of Moore, Valdes-Scantling or St. Brown needs to become accustomed to the pressure and expectations that come with playing for a Super Bowl contender.