Rodgers returns to practice, but Flynn expected to start
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--Hardly a soul who walked through the Don Hutson Center on Tuesday did so without doing a double take.
Was that Aaron Rodgers in his red practice jersey throwing footballs with fellow quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien?
As a matter of fact, it was.
Those who were allowed to stick around—not reporters—quickly found out that Rodgers was there to continue his rehabilitation from a broken left collarbone and not to run the No. 1 offense.
It was Flynn who was under center with the starters.
“Matt Flynn took the starter reps today,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “It was a big mental day for us. We’re just removed from a five-quarter game on Sunday. So, Matt took the starter reps and that’s where we are.”
Asked if that meant Flynn would start Thursday against the Detroit Lions, McCarthy said, “That’s where we are. Business as usual. Next man up. Getting him ready. Getting ready to go.”
If that isn’t confirmation that Flynn is his guy this week, it’s a form needing only a signature to become official. Though McCarthy has talked about getting both Flynn and Scott Tolzien ready to play, starters get starter reps and it would be a huge shift in plans if Flynn weren’t under center Thanksgiving Day.
“I’m preparing like I’m going to start,” Flynn said. “My mind is set to go out there and take the first snap and play, and do the best that I can, and try to move the ball, and, you know, go out there, try to beat a really good Detroit team in their house.”
While Flynn took most of the snaps in a jog-through type practice lasting about 75 minutes, Rodgers did a little coaching, a little running and a lot of smiling. He has not taken part in practice in three weeks and just the chance to throw during individual drills made him “feel like I was part of the team.”
Rodgers, speaking Tuesday on his weekly radio show on ESPN Milwaukee, said throwing in practice was the next step in his rehabilitation of the cracked left collarbone he suffered against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 4. But he warned that there is more to it than just being able to throw some passes before he is cleared for contact.
“Like I’ve said, I haven’t had any pain throwing,” Rodgers said. “The issues—which people probably don’t understand, they think, ‘Oh, he has no pain, why doesn’t he play?’—it’s not that simple.
“There’s obviously risk-management and then here’s the flexibility and the strength, which are two other components of this injury that have to be where I want them to be in order to play. The flexibility and the strength have been the last to come and we’ll go from there.”
Shoulder specialists have said that the bone needs to be completely healed and Rodgers’ strength and range of motion must return to what they were in order for him to return safely. If he comes back too early, he risks suffering a displaced fracture, which would knock him out for the season and require several months of rehab.
He reminded people that as much as he wants to play it has not even been a month since he suffered the injury. In general, bones heal in four to six weeks and Rodgers has not reached that milestone.
“We’re 22 days out from the injury today,” he said. “Expectations have been high, and I’ve obviously been trying to push it as much as has been reasonable, but it’s a waiting game with broken bones and obviously it doesn’t just affect the bone, it affects the muscles around it and range of motion and the strength you have on that left side and in that shoulder.
“Obviously, I know I’m a right-handed quarterback, but I still need to be able to have strength in that arm.”
Rodgers’ job again this week will be to support the starting quarterback and assuming Flynn starts it will be the third different one in four weeks. The Packers are 0-3-1 in the four games in which Rodgers has been hurt, and Flynn is looking to be the first to win.
Flynn’s four years of experience in the offense prior to his departure in free agency in 2012, have made his assimilation into the offense go smoothly. However, there are plays he hasn’t run in a long time and this week is about finding the ones that not only will exploit Detroit’s weaknesses, but fit Flynn’s talents.
After replacing Tolzien in the third quarter Sunday against the Vikings, Flynn led the Packers to 19 points and a 26-26 tie, but it was not a seamless transition. There were issues with his unfamiliar cadence, chemistry with receivers and mechanics of the no-huddle offense.
Despite all that, Flynn gave the offense what it needed, which is a shot in the arm.
“He provided a spark,” quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. “He has good enough recall to do what we did. He’s an experienced guy. He did a nice job leading our offense.”
The last time Flynn played in Detroit was 2010 when he came in after Rodgers suffered a concussion late in the first half. He had a very difficult time against an aggressive Lions defense and with a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter could not get a yard necessary to keep the drive going.
Flynn said he was too hyped up entering that game and when he had a full week of practice the following week, he performed much better against New England in a near upset. He expects to be calmer this time around.
One thing the Packers may ask him to do more of is run the no-huddle offense, which was a big emphasis when Rodgers was healthy. McAdoo said that Flynn was in a good rhythm against the Vikings and his decision-making and unflappability had a lot to do with it.
The Packers are going to want to stretch the Lions defense both to create room for running back Eddie Lacy and to take advantage of the holes in its secondary. Flynn’s strength isn’t the deep ball, but he may be forced to throw a lot of them.
“He made some nice throws in the game,” McAdoo said, when asked about Flynn’s arm strength. “He had a double-move later in the game. I didn’t see any issues there, from what’s been reported actually.”
Whatever the case, those throws won’t be coming from Rodgers’ arm for at least one more week.