Packers gaining confidence in Rodgers' strong arm
It's never easy to replace a legend. However Aaron Rodgers' strong arm is easing some of the worry over how the Packers will manage without Brett Favre, writes John Clayton.
As it turns out, Rodgers has a very strong arm. He's had the strong arm since he's been in Green Bay. The football explodes off his hand on each throw in practice. Teammates have noticed it for years because they work with or against him in practice.
Thanks to the towering presence of No. 4, though, who knew?
While you might feel as though you're missing something watching Packers minicamp without Favre, it's impossible not to notice how impressive Rodgers looks now that No. 12 runs the offense. He has a smooth, polished retreat from center. His feet are in good position for each throw out of three- and five-step drops.
And then you take notice. His right arm sets up naturally, and the ball comes out unnaturally fast. He doesn't possess an old Randy Johnson fastball, but, in baseball terms, his 6-2 body throws the fastball of a 6-5 pitcher. Sticking to baseball comparisons, Rodgers might not generate 99 or 100 mph on the radar gun, but he'd consistently hit 94 and 95, and sometimes 96.
"He has a cannon," wide receiver Greg Jennings said. "We call him the 'Human Jugs Machine.' He throws it like a Jugs machine every time.
"He can make every throw on the football field, and his deep ball is one of the prettiest. Brett had a great deep ball, but Aaron has a beautiful one."
Jennings said there are some throws Rodgers makes that have more velocity than Favre's. As a young receiver, Jennings can only speak about Favre in his later years. "We knew that coming in that Aaron throws a lot harder, so it's not a surprise," the third-year Packer said.
Running the West Coast offense, though, Rodgers isn't asked to go deep much. Favre wasn't either, but it was his nature to do it anyway. Rodgers won't have Favre's flair for the dramatic -- who will? -- but you can see he will bruise a few fingers and hands trying to move the chains out of three- and five-step drops.
"He's just throws hard," wide receiver Donald Driver said. "He's just one of those guys who doesn't have any touch at all. He just throws, and that's a good thing. He's able to get the ball to you when he needs to get it to you."
Coming out of Cal, Rodgers took some criticism for his throwing, which might have been unfair. Cal coach Jeff Tedford has run a college laboratory for quarterbacks at Fresno State, Oregon and now Cal. He has produced five first-rounders -- Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller and Rodgers. Unfortunately for Rodgers, he was victimized by some of the failures of the Tedford quarterbacks before him.
Rodgers, despite being debated as a pick for the top of the 2005 draft, fell all the way to the Packers at No. 24. Scouts were skeptical because Tedford quarterbacks make slow, if not disappointing, transitions into the NFL. This is where Rodgers might have caught a break. Being Favre's backup is like being in the witness protection program. No one sees you. No one judges you.
The time away from the limelight allowed Rodgers to make a few natural adjustments in his delivery.
"It's really where I carried the ball," Rodgers said. "It's not a conscious thing. We were drilled every day at Cal to hold the ball high and were drilled in the way our arm dropped. When I got to the NFL, we weren't doing that every day. It came up with a more natural position."
It probably didn't hurt to throw behind Favre either. Favre was a natural. He threw rockets even falling backward. Rodgers might have left Cal a byproduct of precise teaching, but not having the constant drilling allowed him to be more natural with his throws. His right arm released the ball lower than it did at Cal.
"As that happened, my release point was able to center up a little better," Rodgers said. "I became way more consistent with my release point. The more consistent you are with your release point, the more accurate you are.
"Coming out in the draft, my release was kind of the knock on me. I had no problem with my release point coming back down. Once it did, I felt the accuracy was back. Once I got to a more natural point, I was throwing like it was in high school."
Packers coach Mike McCarthy was 49ers offensive coordinator in 2005 when they were debating whether to take Alex Smith or Rodgers. The 49ers took Smith.
"Aaron has a very strong arm and really always has," McCarthy said. "We dropped his ball carriage. He had a very high one when he came out. Now, it's a little more fluid and that helps him transition more into the movement part of it. He's very fundamentally strong. He's clearly one of the better guys I've had the opportunity to work with."
The alteration of Rodgers' throw started when he was a rookie in 2005, so he shouldn't develop any arm troubles because he's been throwing with the more natural motion for almost three years.
Aside from the strong arm, it will be interesting to watch how Rodgers evolves as a leader of the team. He won't be Favre; replacing a Hall of Fame quarterback is one of the most difficult assignments in sports. What's easy to see, though, is that he gets along well with the offense.
One of the things he learned from Favre was an understanding of the jobs of the receivers and how to explain to them their assignments. Favre did that more on the sidelines and after plays. Rodgers communicates those duties more in the huddle instead -- a testament to the fact that he doesn't feel intimidated running a huddle, a trait Rodgers attributes to when he was a junior college quarterback at Butte College.
"I had a 25-year-old center, a 24-year-old left tackle, a 24-year-old right tackle, guys who have been in jail and guys from all over the place," Rodgers said. "When you come in there, you don't have a lot of authority when you are an 18-year-old talking to these guys. I wasn't nervous at all."
Now Rodgers' arm is easing some of the nervousness of those who worry about how the Packers will replace Favre.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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