GREEN BAY — Davante Adams and David Bakhtiari were in no way surprised when their favorite quarterback was a no-show for the opening day of the Green Bay Packers’ three-day mandatory minicamp on Tuesday.
After all, they are two of Aaron Rodgers’ closest friends — with or without football. So, they knew what was coming.
At the same time, they are walking a thin line between being fully supportive of their pal and knowing the Packers stand virtually zero chance of reaching Super Bowl LVI this season without the three-time NFL MVP, who is missing the first offseason program of his career after his unhappiness with the team’s front office came to light.
That, of course, left Adams and Bakhtiari and 87 other players at Clarke Hinkle Field on Tuesday, while Rodgers remained at home in southern California. And to paraphrase Morgan Freeman’s character, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, in “The Shawshank Redemption,” Bakhtiari and Adams just miss their friend.
“For me, I care about Aaron Rodgers from a friend perspective. Whatever he wants to do, whatever the situation that comes out, I will never hold any grudge against him. That is my friend,” Bakhtiari said during a Zoom call with reporters after practice, which he spent rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee. “That is someone that I have (always) appreciated — and he has done a lot for this organization and a lot for me as an individual.
“Now, as a teammate, I would be idiotic to say that I don’t want the MVP back. He was the MVP of the league last year. He’s done amazing things from not only the quarterback position, but for the franchise.
“I’ve definitely voiced to him, ‘Whatever happens, it’s out of my control. The situation is between you in the organization, and that’s where it’s going to stay. I don’t want to get in the middle of that. I respect you as a friend and however that turns out, I’m not going to take anything personally.’ I think it’s really the mindset.”
Added Adams: “This is obviously a very delicate situation, and it’s tough to really know how to navigate through it. … I don’t prod or poke. I’m not going to give any unsolicited advice. I think it’s the best to let him just do his thing, figure it out, let him know that I’m here for him and keep giving him that support and backing him up with that. The moment he gets back — which I’m praying for, and I think we all are — we’ll get right back to it like we were before.
“I’ll stand on the mountain and scream on the mountaintop that I’ve got his back.”
For his part, Packers coach Matt LaFleur tried to limit the discussion of his absent star during his post-practice Zoom call with reporters. He wouldn’t divulge if Rodgers had been excused from the minicamp — a distinction that would save Rodgers more than $93,000 in potential fines — and called it “team business.” He also wouldn’t say how he addressed Rodgers’ absence with his players, saying that was “family business” he wanted to keep “in house.”
But LaFleur made it clear his position — remember when he said he wanted Rodgers back “in the worst way” last month? — has not changed. And while one minicamp practice does not a career make, 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love’s erratic performance on Clarke Hinkle Field on Tuesday served as a stark reminder of how different of a team the Packers, who’ve reached back-to-back NFC Championship Games and gone a combined 28-8 in LaFleur’s first two years as coach, are with Rodgers under center.
“You’d love everybody to be here. (But) it is what it is, man. And we’ll focus and work on the guys that are here,” LaFleur said. “I’m not going to get into my conversations with Aaron and the communication (with him). I’m naturally optimistic. Again, we’ll take it day by day and just do whatever we can to help remedy the situation.”
While Rodgers stayed away, LaFleur gave Love virtually every first-team snap during 11-on-11 work, and Love struggled with his accuracy. The session was the third open-to-the-media practice of the offseason, and while Love’s arm strength appears improved and his footwork looks better than it did in training camp last summer, his aim was off on Tuesday, when half his team throws were incomplete — and often overthrown.
“He needs every rep he can get right now. He’s a young quarterback that was not afforded a preseason last year, and so, we’ll give him as many as he can handle,” LaFleur explained. “I just think every rep that he takes is so valuable, and he can learn something from both the good and the bad.”
As for the bad he saw Tuesday from Love, who had shown better accuracy during the two open organized team activity practices, LaFleur said, “We’ve just got to go back and fine (tooth) comb the video and make sure that his fundamentals, his footwork, his body position are in the right spot to make an accurate throw. And certainly, that’s exactly what we’ll do right after this.”
Bakhtiari, who tore the ACL in his left knee during a Dec. 31 practice, said he wouldn’t put any sort of timeline on his recovery, including being cleared in time for the start of training camp in late July or for the Sept. 12 regular-season opener at New Orleans. “I’ve got no problem saying I will 100% be ready for the start of training camp — in 2022,” he joked. Later, in a more serious reply, he added, “This is my first time going through this, so I’m just going to attack every day, try to hit every benchmark I can and once ‘Doc’ (team physician Dr. Patrick McKenzie) can check me off, I can check myself and I can go out there and not only perform and protect myself but perform at the level that the Packers need me to, I think that’s where you’ll see me return, on that date.” … Adams, who had not been taking part in OTA practices and is in the final year of his contract, vowed to report to training camp even if he doesn’t have a contract extension in place. “I’ll be here. I signed up to go to work and play,” said Adams, who did side work and drills but no 11-on-11 periods during practice. “I’m from East Palo Alto, California, I grew up with $0. I’m not forfeiting any of my money that I’ve earned and signed for already. So, I’ll be there for sure.” … Wide receiver Devin Funchess, who opted out of last season due to COVID-19 concerns and played in only one game in 2019 because of a broken collarbone, took part in practice — his first work in 21 months. “It was good to be back out there, getting acclimated to the guys,” Funchess said. “It was fun.” … Wide receivers Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown, who like Adams and Funchess did not practice during OTAs, also were back on the field. … Four players — outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, left guard Elgton Jenkins and defensive end Dean Lowry — didn’t practice because they were in the COVID-19 protocol. That doesn’t necessarily mean they had positive tests, but it prevents them from being in the building. … Quarterback Jake Dolegala, an undrafted free agent from Central Connecticut State in 2019, took part in practice on a tryout basis.