GREEN BAY – Ben McAdoo acted bewildered. Never let it be said that the Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach isn’t a team player.
If head coach Mike McCarthy is looking to keep the Pittsburgh Steelers guessing about the availability of quarterback Aaron Rodgers for Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field, he upped the ante on Thursday, when he – not once but twice – said that Rodgers looked “ready to play” even though he’s yet to get medical clearance to return from the fractured left collarbone he suffered Nov. 4 against Chicago.
McCarthy said this despite acknowledging that backup Matt Flynn “took the majority of reps” and Rodgers himself said he “didn’t take a lot of reps” on Thursday.
Perhaps most telling: During the sole 11-on-11 period of practice open to reporters, Flynn and then third-stringer Scott Tolzien took all the quarterback snaps, while Rodgers spent the period standing next to McAdoo, far away from the action.
So there was McAdoo after practice, responding to a question about whether Rodgers has effectively hidden his frustration from his teammates and fellow quarterbacks with, “Are you saying he’s not playing?”
Why, yes, Ben, that’s exactly what we’re saying. Unless McCarthy and his staff are planning the mother of all Sunday surprises, their actions this week have spoken louder than their words. (For the record, McCarthy said he would make an announcement on Rodgers’ availability on Friday.)
“Obviously today he’s still not medically cleared. Looked very good at practice. I would state him ready to play,” McCarthy said. “But once again we’re going through the process, make sure we’re getting Matt ready to play. Matt took the majority of reps.”
Later, McCarthy added, “He looks sharp. He definitely looks better this week. He looks like he’s ready to play.” Asked if he thought Rodgers should play, McCarthy replied, “No, you wanted an update. I mean, you wanted to know how he looks, he looks good. He’s a limited practice participant. He hasn’t been medically cleared.”
On Wednesday, McCarthy had said the Packers were following the “same” – later amending his statement to “a similar” – approach with Rodgers that they took last week, when Rodgers took first-team snaps in 11-on-11 periods during both Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practices, with he and Flynn splitting snaps essentially 50/50 during the Thursday session.
Then, after Rodgers had his collarbone scanned later Thursday, the quarterback met with McCarthy, team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie and general manager Ted Thompson last Friday morning and learned he was being ruled out for the game against the Dallas Cowboys. Rodgers then did next to nothing at practice.
This week, Rodgers did take some first-team snaps in practice Wednesday – this time, tight end Andrew Quarless didn’t have to break the news by speaking out of school about it – but then came Thursday’s practice, which belonged almost exclusively to Flynn. Flynn got off to a slow start against the Cowboys before rallying the Packers from a 26-3 halftime deficit to a 37-36 victory, and the coaches may have decided that he needed more practice reps in preparation to avoid a sluggish start against the Steelers. The 7-6-1 Packers can clinch the NFC North title and a first-round home playoff game with victories over the Steelers Sunday and over the Bears at Soldier Field Dec. 29.
“Obviously we’ve had a plan in that regard and I think it’s gone well,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said of the snap distribution in practice this week. “We feel that we’re doing what we need to do for both guys.”
Asked if the plan was different from last week’s, Clements replied, “We have a plan that’s beneficial to both guys.” Asked again if it was different, Clements became slightly agitated. “It was beneficial last week.”
Speaking at his locker after McCarthy’s session in the media auditorium, Rodgers deferred most questions to McCarthy. While his self-assessment of his play in practice was in agreement with McCarthy’s – “I’ve completed just about every pass in practice,” he said – he also suggested that he knows his fate already.
“I have a good sense of what’s going to happen, yes,” Rodgers said.
That led to Rodgers dodging most of the follow-up questions.
What has to happen for him to be medically cleared? “That’s a question for coach McCarthy.”
Will he be playing on Sunday? “It’s a medical decision, it’s an organizational decision.”
Is it Dr. McKenzie or Thompson who makes the final call? “That’s a Mike McCarthy question.”
What is his sense of what’ll happen Sunday? “That’s another Mike McCarthy question there for tomorrow.”
How strong an argument is he going to make with McKenzie, McCarthy and Thompson to play? “I bet Mike will be able to answer that tomorrow.”
Nothing Rodgers said, in fact, pointed toward him playing.
“At this point I have to focus on the things I can control and that’s practicing well, taking care of my business in the weight room, preparing, being a good teammate,” he said. “It’s an organizational and a medical decision at this point.”
Based on Rodgers’ remarks, that decision appears to have been made by McKenzie and Thompson. The distribution of snaps would reinforce that notion.
“Until Aaron is cleared to go, the bulk of the reps are going to go to the guys who are cleared to go. At the same time, we want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to prepare to play in the game,” McAdoo said. “Reps are like a bar of gold, you guys only get to see a handful, but we make sure we split them up accordingly.”
In a 2011 interview with the team's website, McKenzie said Thompson and McCarthy have been very understanding whenever he's made a medical decision about a player, never pressuring him to clear a player who was not ready.
“When I have to tell Mike and Ted (a player’s season is over), it’s difficult because they’re disappointed and frustrated and it screws up everything they’ve got planned,” McKenzie said. “But it’s not difficult because they’re such class guys. They accept it and move on and deal with it, which is not that way everywhere. Our medical staff is very fortunate that we’ve always had guys like that here.”
Meanwhile, McAdoo said that if Rodgers is angry or frustrated with the team not clearing him to play with a playoff berth within reach, he has not exhibited that in front of his teammates.
“Aaron has handled his injury very well within the confines of the building and the practice field, with his teammates and his coaches. He’s doing everything he can to get himself ready to play if that opportunity presents itself this week,” McAdoo said. “And he’s also doing everything he can to help the other guys get ready to go. He understands that reps are limited and he does a nice job of contributing in the room whether he’s able to go or he’s not able to go. We all appreciate that. He doesn’t make it about himself.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.