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Aaron Rodgers’ numbers were down but still impressive in 2012.

QBs: Packers offseason by position

Players under contract
No.
Name
Ht.
Wt.
Age
Exp.
College
12
Aaron Rodgers
6-2
225
29
8
California
6
Graham Harrell
6-2
215
27
1
Texas Tech
9
B.J. Coleman
6-3
231
24
R
Tenn.-Chat.

The good news:  His numbers weren’t as otherworldly as they’d been during his NFL MVP season of 2011, when he set an NFL record for single-season passer rating (122.5) while completing 343 of 502 passes (68.3 percent) for 4,643 yards (9.25 yards per attempt) with 45 touchdowns and six interceptions (a 1.2 percent interception rate) while being sacked 36 times. But Rodgers wasn’t too shabby: His quarterback rating was still the NFL’s best (108.0); he threw 39 touchdown passes; his interceptions went up to eight (but his interception rate was still only 1.4 percent); he still finished with 4,295 passing yards (eighth in the NFL). The only appreciable drop was in Rodgers’ yards per attempt, which went from an NFL-high 9.25 yards in 2011 to only 7.78 in 2012, in part because of the frequent Cover-2 defenses he faced.

Nonetheless, quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo argued that Rodgers “may have been more valuable this year than he was last year” because of the upheaval he faced. Having turned 29 in December, Rodgers enters what he terms the “second half” of his career having been the team’s starter for five seasons. While a reliable ground game would be welcomed, this team will always revolve around him, as coach Mike McCarthy’s “quarterback-driven” system requires. As he goes, so go the Packers, and they could need him to be even better next year, when the offense could be without wide receiver Greg Jennings (free agent) and tight end Jermichael Finley (possible cap casualty).

The bad news:  While he didn’t miss a single game and only missed one snap – after being poked in the eye, with Harrell fumbling a goal-line handoff on the ensuing play – Rodgers continues to put himself in harm’s way with the number of sacks he takes. Since taking over as the starter, Rodgers has absorbed an astonishing league-high 202 sacks in five seasons – 34 in 2008, 50 in 2009, 31 in 2010, 36 in 2011 and a league-leading 51 in 2011. While a discombobulated offensive line was a factor, according to ProFootballFocus.com, 10 of those sacks were charged to Rodgers for holding onto the ball too long. That’s part of the bargain with Rodgers, who makes plenty of things happen by extending plays and is willing to trade interceptions for sacks. Nevertheless, it was a concern.

“Any time you have a high number it’s not a good thing,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “We talk about it. Everybody has a responsibility for the sacks. It’s not just the offensive line. At times it is, at times it’s the backs, at times no one is open, at times Aaron tries to scramble and isn’t able to and gets sacked. So you can point to a lot of different reasons for the high number. We obviously want to reduce that. We’re willing to accept a certain number where Aaron is trying to move around and make a play because he does make a lot of plays moving around, and we don’t want to limit him. So, if he can move around and make a play 7 out of 8 times and get sacked the other time, it’s something we’re willing to live with because those seven plays can be big plays.”

The big question: Following Matt Flynn’s free-agent departure, the Packers handed the No. 2 quarterback job to Harrell, and the preseason reviews were mixed. He ended the preseason with a terrific game against the Kansas City Chiefs in the exhibition finale, achieving the maximum passer rating of 158.3 by completing 13 of 15 passes for 223 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. (His two incompletions were an intentional throw-away after being flushed from the pocket, and an on-target deep pass down the left sideline that wide receiver Tori Gurley dropped.) But his first three performances were troubling, as he was just 32 of 63 for 261 yards with one TD and two INTs for a passer rating of 53.7. Then came his first NFL regular-season snap, which was a disaster when he tripped and fumbled an attempted handoff to Cedric Benson in what turned out to be – lucky for him – a victory over New Orleans on Sept. 30. Meanwhile, Coleman, a seventh-round draft pick, is an unknown. So are the Packers covered if something serious befalls Rodgers in 2013?

“Graham’s a guy with a good football mind, he’s someone who can make an impact and learn the offense and develop without getting many reps,” McAdoo said. “In the offseason, you get an opportunity to get more reps and a little more work. He’s a guy who’s got a great football mind, he has a good pedigree football-wise, and I saw him improve throughout the year. B.J. has some physical tools. He’s an eager guy, he’s very eager to learn, wants to learn, is excited to learn. And he did a nice job for us on the look team this year. He has some physical tools to develop. It’s too early to say. We’ll take a look at him in the offseason program and see what he can handle and push him. We’re going to break him down and we’re going to build him back up fundamentally.”

Offseason outlook:  With the retirement of 14-year veteran wide receiver Donald Driver, Rodgers is now the longest-tenured Packer on the roster. There are players who are older, but no one has been with the team longer than Rodgers, who was GM Ted Thompson’s first draft pick in 2005. No one who arrived before Thompson remains, and while Rodgers’ current contract expires after the 2014 season, the expectation is that he’ll get an extension sooner rather than later. In the interim, Rodgers believes his role as team leader – something called into question by a handful of outsiders – is even more vital.

“Every year I play in the league, I have more responsibility and more leadership opportunities. As a young player you realize this because you really look to the older players for that direction, that voice, that leadership,” Rodgers said. “My leadership style isn’t going to change I like to lead by example first and be a guy that’s on time and in the right place and the right time, practice in the right way. Saying the right things and doing the right things in the community and on the field and playing well. That’s not going to change. I just know I am going to have a greater opportunity to lead with my words maybe more than in previous years as we move forward, because the young players need to hear kind of how things are, how the league works, how to be successful, what the expectations are and I look forward to those opportunities, I don’t run from those I look forward to having that voice and to setting the tone once we get back in April, to what it’s going to take to get back to the Super Bowl.

“Every player has different buttons that you can push on them to get them to respond in a positive way and you learn how to talk to guys, how to motivate them and how to lead them best. That’s a process that takes place. I think this year reminded us all of how powerful social media has gotten and how you got to think about it all the time, how you want to be represented and how you want people to think of you and look at you. That’s your brand and that’s your reputation as well.

“I am very confident in my leadership abilities, in the way that I conduct myself at the stadium and the way I lead by example and have very few insecurities about that and feel confident that the guys respond to my leadership in a positive way and they appreciate it as well. That being said, there is always, as you get older, there is more opportunities more reasonability and I look forward to those challenges and look forward to being a guy that our guys can count on. (I’m) going to continue to be a good teammate and I really enjoy the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and to have guys count on me and to have guys follow my lead on and off the field. That’s something (that) once we get a deal done with the Packers here in the next couple years, I look forward to continuing to carve out that as my legacy and hope that Packers fans can be proud of the guy leading them at quarterback.”

Next: Running backs.

– Jason Wilde

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