GREEN BAY — Last week, Martellus Bennett insisted that he not only wanted in-game, preseason reps with his new quarterback, but that he needed them. Little did he know just how much he needed them.
While the Green Bay Packers tight end made sure to point out the economic incentive the NFL has to play these games that don’t count — “This is probably one of their biggest four-game sessions with how much money they make, so we all know why we’re really doing it,” he said Tuesday after practice — Bennett also said the playing time he got last week at Washington with quarterback Aaron Rodgers was eye-opening.
For while Bennett and Rodgers have gotten plenty of work in practice, Bennett found out how different everything — from the speed of the offense, to the sound of Rodgers’ voice, to the velocity on his throws — is in game action. On the very first play against the Redskins, Rodgers threw Bennett’s way and the ball zipped right through his hands for a drop.
“The first pass he threw, the ball came out way faster than it usually does. He’s like, ‘It’s a little bit hotter in the games.’ I’m like, ‘Well, tell me that before we start,’ ” Bennett said. “And then all the receivers came up to me and said, ‘Yeah, it’s hotter in the games, huh?’ I’m like, ‘No one told me that.’ ”
Rodgers has made his feelings about preseason known — two summers ago, he vented about the “meaningless” games after losing No. 1 wide receiver Jordy Nelson to a season-ending knee injury– and if there’s anything the two-time NFL MVP lacks, it is not courage of his convictions.
But even while he is certain he could be ready for the regular season without a single snap in a preseason game (and said so Tuesday), Rodgers acknowledged there is immense value in his teammates getting that in-game work with him — particularly the rookies, or new veteran teammates such as Bennett and right guard Jahri Evans.
And so, he acknowledged his one series of work at Washington and the handful of series he figures to play at Denver on Saturday night are worthwhile, despite the risk of getting hurt.
“The tempo, the cadence (are) different. I know that (the other quarterbacks) are trying to imitate some of the stuff, but the cadence is just different — my cadence and the other guys’ cadences. And then some of the checks that we have, there’s obviously a little more latitude when I’m out there to add or subtract or change some of the things when the play call comes in,” said Rodgers, who played in only one preseason game last summer, working only two series. “It’s hard to simulate that in practice.”
So is catching opponents with 12 men on the field, which Rodgers is an expert at doing and did to the Redskins.
But again, it’s something players new to the offense are unaccustomed to, which is why Bennett wasn’t set and should have been flagged for illegal procedure when Rodgers caught the Redskins subbing.
Each game, Rodgers has a code word he yells when he sees the defense is susceptible to a penalty for 12 men on the field, and when he yelled it on that play, it didn’t register with Bennett as quickly as it did with the rest of the offense.
“You wait for the play call, and then he says whatever he says,” Bennett said. “Then it’s kind of, ‘Oh, what’s that? Hey Jordy, what we got?’ And Jordy (says), ‘Get on the ball!’ ‘All right, then what?’ And it’s ‘Set, hut!’ And I’m like, ‘What the (expletive)?’ ”
Quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said that play was a perfect example of why the Packers want Rodgers, who took ample first-team reps in practice Tuesday, to get that preseason work.
“A lot of it I think is the communication, how he communicates in the huddle, how he calls the plays,” Van Pelt said. “So (it’s about) just getting used to those kinds of things that step up a notch when it goes to game speed with him. I think that’s critical for the other guys.
“Just being out there together, they start to learn from him, his mannerisms, his voice inflection when he needs something. All that’s just part of working together. You do it in practice, but it steps up a notch in the game.”
Rodgers called it “a good learning experience,” and while he isn’t changing his opinion on the concept of preseason, he’s found some meaning in these meaningless games.
“I told them before the game, ‘It’s going to be a little different. The ball’s going to come a little harder than I throw it in practice and the tempo’s going to come a little faster,’” Rodgers said. “I was sitting in the back (of the team bus) with Jahri after the game and we were talking about the silent count and the mechanics there and just how different the game is. So those are great teaching moments for us.”