GREEN BAY, Wis. — That’s what it is around here. The Relationship. Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur, vet quarterback and rookie coach. Everyone inside and outside the Packers building is taking their temperature. Walking on the sidelines at practice the other day, a fan stopped me and asked, “How’s the relationship between Matt and Aaron? What’re you hearing?”
The other day, I asked LaFleur what it was like being Aaron Rodgers’ boss. He laughed uncomfortably. I think he cringed.
“Ha! I don’t, to be honest with you, really look at it like that,” LaFleur said, sitting on a bench in the shade at the Packers practice field. “From a play-caller’s mentality, I’ve always viewed that relationship as more of a partnership, because he plays the toughest position in all of sports, and you want to always be sure he’s comfortable with all that’s going on. I know if he’s confident with what’s going on, the 10 guys in the huddle are going to be comfortable with what’s going on.”
Said Rodgers: “I tell him all the time, ‘You’re the boss.’ He usually retorts with the same, ‘No, it’s a partnership.’ “
It’s got to be odd for LaFleur, who wants to play more of a tempo offense than Rodgers is used to, to come into Green Bay and tell one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, in his 15th NFL season, Let’s do it this way. You can’t ask a guy who’s spoken Mandarin at the highest level to speak French at the highest level nine months later and forget the Mandarin. You can’t ask Rodgers to forget what he’s learned. You’ve got to work with him to add the new stuff and give him some freedom beyond that.
There was a play in the Pack’s Family Night Scrimmage inside Lambeau Field nine days ago that could hold a clue to how the two men will work together. LaFleur called an inside run to the left. When Rodgers got to the line, he saw that the inside run to the left would get crushed. So he changed the play: outside run to the right. Problem was, LaFleur and the offensive coaches hadn’t installed either the verbiage or the technique for the audible. Somehow—Rodgers wouldn’t say exactly how—Rodgers communicated to his offense that the inside run to the left was off and the outside run to the right was on. He called out a number signifying the play. Boom. It gained yards. LaFleur, amazed, wondered how he communicated something that hadn’t been installed yet to his team, but he figured he just used last year’s signals. The coach was fine with it.
“If you can find a way to communicate it without getting a delay-of-game, you just do it,” Rodgers said. “Nothing too complicated. That’s football.”
Rodgers is trying to adjust to a system that’s the first major change for him in his pro career. Talking to him after practice, he sounds like he’s ready for it. “A lot of it is different,” he said. “The NFL is a copycat league and there’s a lot of similar concepts. But it’s definitely different than the last 11 years and we’ve been doing. It’s fun. It’s stuff you’ve seen the Rams do and Atlanta do and San Fran. We all watch football. We’re all fans. We watch and think, That play’s pretty cool.‘ Now you’re sitting in an install meeting and you’re like, ‘Hey, that was that play from this game. That’s the one from the LA.-Minnesota game that we saw.’ Definitely a lot more studying. I don’t know this like the back of my hand like I did the last offense yet, but I’m getting there.”
“Confident it’ll work well?” I asked.
If it does, this is going to be one fun offense to watch. Imagine Rodgers, already one of the smartest quarterbacks ever to play, playing at a faster pace, snapping the ball at 18 or 16 on the play clock four or five plays in a row. Think of how that could discombobulate the defense. The Relationship is going to be a good chemistry experiment for the 2019 Packers.