Commentary

Rodgers says he's ready to lead Packers

Replacing a legend isn't easy, but Aaron Rodgers says he's prepared to handle the scrutiny and pressure he'll face as the Packers' starting quarterback, writes Pat Yasinskas.

Originally Published: March 5, 2008
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com

They had been teammates for a full year before Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers started talking the same language.

It was sometime in minicamp or training camp of 2006 when Favre reached out to the man he knew would someday replace him as quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Paul Spinelli/Getty ImagesAfter a long wait, Aaron Rodgers is looking forward to taking over as the Packers' starting quarterback.
"That's when Brett came to me and he really encouraged me in a couple areas where I could improve my mental toughness and the way I would deal with adversity,'' Rodgers said Wednesday by telephone from California. "He told me it was important to think about body language and attitude all the time because everybody's watching you at all times.''

That's even truer now than it was then. With Favre's retirement Tuesday, Rodgers suddenly is the king of the cheeseheads. His every move will be scrutinized by just about everyone in Wisconsin. Come September, he'll become the first player to start at quarterback for Green Bay since Favre took over in 1992.

"You can't replace a legend and I know that going in,'' Rodgers said. "All I can do is try to be the best quarterback I can be. I'm not going to let anyone outwork me and I'm going to be accountable to my coaches and teammates. I know it's a challenge, but I've got a good team around me and I had three years to learn from Brett, who is the greatest quarterback ever.''

But Rodgers said he and Favre weren't always so close. Drafted in the first round (24th overall) in 2005, Rodgers said he felt tension early on.

Kiper on Rodgers

Although Aaron Rodgers will be entering his fourth NFL season, playing behind Brett Favre didn't produce many on field opportunities.

To get familiar with Rodgers, the player, Mel Kiper Jr. looks back at his original draft report on the former Cal quarterback. Story

"Obviously, when a team drafts a quarterback in the first round, that's a pretty big statement,'' Rodgers said. "At that time, Brett felt like he still had plenty left in his tank and those are some pretty difficult terms to come in under. That first year, we were just teammates.''

But the relationship began thawing in 2006, after Favre flirted with retirement. With Favre at home in Mississippi for a good chunk of the offseason, Rodgers got most of the first-team work as the Packers installed a new system with new coach Mike McCarthy. When Favre returned for minicamp, Rodgers helped translate the new offense.

A bond started forming and the talks grew longer and more in-depth.

"We went from being just teammates that first year to being pretty close friends,'' Rodgers said. "As we got to know each other and he saw my work ethic, a level of trust developed. It got to a point where Brett didn't mind me being his little shadow and that was pretty amazing for me because I grew up watching and admiring Brett Favre.''

Shadowing Favre was about all Rodgers could do for his first three NFL seasons. He's attempted only 59 career passes and thrown for just one touchdown. His most extensive playing time came last season after Favre was injured in a prime-time game at Dallas. Although the Packers lost, Rodgers played well, completing 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and one touchdown.

There's been no formal passing of the torch, but it's been assumed for three years that Rodgers would ascend to the throne when Favre retired. McCarthy called Rodgers on Tuesday, but the conversation was brief.

Following a Legend

How hard is it to replace a quarterbacking legend? We looked it up -- last year of the legend vs. first year of his replacement. Found some successes; found some failures. (Also found a few legendary QBs, such as Terry Bradshaw and Bart Starr, who didn't leave the game as full-season starters, so we left them out of this chart.) If past is prologue, here are some clues to what Packers fans might expect from Aaron Rodgers next season.

The Year After
Legend (year) Team Rating W-L Next up (year) Rating W-L
Troy Aikman ('00) Dallas 55.7 5-11 Quincy Carter ('01) 63.0 5-11
Dan Marino ('99) Miami 67.4 9-7 Jay Fiedler ('00) 74.5 11-5
John Elway ('98) Denver 93.0 14-2 Brian Griese ('99) 75.6 6-10
Jim Kelly ('96) Buffalo 73.2 10-6 Todd Collins ('97) 69.5 6-10
Roger Staubach ('79) Dallas 92.3 11-5 Danny White ('80) 80.7 12-4
Otto Graham ('55) Cleveland 94.0 9-2-1 Tommy O'Connell ('56) 41.6 5-7

"It was basically, 'Here's the news and we'll see you on March 17,'" Rodgers said.

March 17 is when the Packers begin offseason workouts for quarterbacks and new players. The real transition starts two weeks later when the rest of the squad begins workouts. But Rodgers is calm about the situation.

When news of Favre's retirement first broke Tuesday, it was about 6:30 a.m. in California. Rodgers was sleeping when his cell phone started ringing.

"After about the eighth call, I knew there was either an emergency or Brett had retired,'' Rodgers said. "I got up and checked the messages and then I went back to bed.''

Did sleep come easily because the moment Rodgers had been waiting for finally arrived?

"No, I was just tired,'' Rodgers said.

But the slumber of the offseason will end in less than two weeks and Rodgers is ready to get to work and take on his new role. The 24-year-old said he believes sitting for three years might have been the perfect preparation for what he faces.

"It was tough at times, not getting to really play for three years, but I look at that as a positive,'' Rodgers said. "I was allowed to come along at my own pace without the weight of a franchise on me because Brett had that. I think that will go a long way toward my development. But, on the flip side now, I've been in the league for three years, so there's no grace period now. I've got to go out there and be consistent and accountable to my coaches and my teammates.''

The expectations from fans, naturally, will be high and Rodgers knows he can't be exactly like Favre. He won't even try to do that, but he will carry some of the lessons he learned from his mentor.

"I think the greatest thing I learned from Brett was just watching him in practice,'' Rodgers said. "There would be days late in the season where he'd be dragging in the locker room and didn't really want to go out to practice. But, we'd get out there and the whistle would blow and he'd be going 100 miles an hour and be full of energy and enthusiasm because that's what the job demands. I got a firsthand look at what greatness is all about. Now, I've got to take advantage of that.''

Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter