GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers is speaking with a heightened sense of urgency as he enters his 14th NFL season.
No critical words from the Green Bay Packers quarterback on Monday, a week after expressing displeasure with the effort from some young players during a portion of practice.
“I care about winning, No. 1, and I’m going to say and do the things that I feel like can advance us,” Rodgers said. “It’s going to be tough at some points. It’s not a popularity contest all the time.”
Rodgers said he expects to make his preseason debut Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. To earn the trust of the two-time NFL MVP, young receivers have to work hard consistently in practice.
“I’m not asked or needed to make personnel decisions, coaching decisions, schedule decisions. My job is to play quarterback,” Rodgers said. “That’s what they’re paying me to do and I feel like I’ve made them pretty happy. So, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Rodgers didn’t name names last week. But he did single out veterans such as receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, whom he spotlighted as role models. Rodgers has also gone out of his way to praise the work of Jake Kumerow, a practice squad player last year who could still be a longshot to make the team.
Conversely, the three rookie receivers drafted this year by the Packers — J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdez-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown — may be part of that inconsistent group.
“I don’t feel like when you make a statement like that that there needs to be some big response or feelings hurt or offense that somebody takes with it,” Rodgers said. “If they do, they’re taking it the wrong way because this is a professional environment.
“I’m doing things that I feel like are in the best interest of the team from a leadership standpoint, and if no one else is going to stand up and criticize a bad practice, then maybe I need to be the one to do it. So, I did it.”
With Rodgers watching from the sideline, the Packers defeated the Tennessee Titans 31-17 on Thursday night. Valdez-Scantling had a productive game with five catches for 101 yards and a score.
Rodgers didn’t attribute the outcome to last week’s comments, but he was pleased with what the team accomplished during practices Sunday and Monday.
Heightening Rodgers’ optimism is the team’s health, including the possible return on Thursday of left tackle David Bakhtiari after he was carted off the field during practice Aug. 4 with an ankle injury.
“I’ll tell you, Dave is a warrior,” coach Mike McCarthy said of Bakhtiari’s quick comeback. “Nothing surprises me with him.”
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who tore a knee ligament against Detroit on Nov. 6, took first-team reps the past two days. Left guard Lane Taylor has been limited to individual drills.
Rodgers sees value in preseason action even if he doesn’t have his entire starting offensive line given some of the changes on offense. Besides the additions of tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Jimmy Graham, Joe Philbin is back as the offensive coordinator.
NOTES: Only four players didn’t practice: WR Trevor Davis (hamstring), RB Devante Mays (hamstring), S Jermaine Whitehead (back) and OLB Nick Perry (ankle). ... GM Brian Gutekunst expects fifth-round draft pick Cole Madison to return to the team at some point. The guard is on the did-not-report list for a personal reason. ... One of the highlights of practice was Graham’s one-handed touchdown catch from Rodgers. “It was nice to be on the same page. He was expecting a ball in that area, and then the athleticism — I have absolutely nothing to do with that.”