Jordy Nelson isn’t sure whose turn it is to drive this week. For every road game, he and his pal Aaron Rodgers carpool to Austin Straubel International Airport together, and while they do get the added benefit of saving on parking, it’s the conversation – en route to the airport, typically on Saturday afternoon, and on the way home in the middle of the night after their charter flight returns to Green Bay – that makes the HOV approach worthwhile.
For the Green Bay Packers’ past few road trips, the wide receiver and the injured quarterback have tried not to spend the drive down U.S. Hwy. 41 South discussing Rodgers’ fractured left collarbone. But as his friend, Nelson also wants to make sure he has the latest news – just like the rest of Packer Nation.
“You ask him how he’s doing. It’s throughout the week, not just the car pool,” Nelson said Thursday, as Rodgers went through his second straight day of taking snaps with the first-team offense – but still has significant hurdles to clear before playing Sunday at Dallas. “Last week, we all knew he went and got a scan and obviously it wasn’t what he wanted to see on it. So this week, you ask him, ‘How’s it going? What’s the plan?’
“He had target dates (since the injury happened) that he had kind of told us, so you want to be updated and see how he’s doing and check on him. Because it’s easy for a guy when they get hurt – no matter who it is – to be kind of put on the back burner. ‘OK, we’ll see you in six weeks.’ You don’t want to make him feel that way. You want to still talk to him but you don’t want to be constantly, ‘How’s the shoulder? How’s the shoulder? How’s the shoulder?’ You just want to talk to him. But yeah, there’s been [some] conversations.”
The Packers and Rodgers certainly have plenty to talk about over the next several hours. The quarterback is slated to be examined Friday morning – according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, that exam will include another scan of the collarbone to discern how much more healing has gone on since the last scan on Dec. 3 – and is expected to practice again after the tests are concluded.
Before practice Thursday, coach Mike McCarthy appeared on SiriusXM NFL Radio and did his best to tamp down expectations of a Rodgers return.
“We need to protect him from himself, frankly, on some of those things,” McCarthy told hosts Bruce Murray and Rich Gannon. “Everybody understands the importance of Aaron to our football team but, more importantly, to our organization.
“I think it’s important at times like this, you’ve always got to take a step back and put the person before the profession, and it’s hard to do. Everybody understands the importance of what we’re trying to accomplish professionally. We have the same vision and goals and thought process today as we did when the season started. And that won’t change. But the reality of it is, the person has a big injury. We’re talking about Aaron Rodgers, so you can’t put the cart before the horse. It’s easy to do. You can see why it’s maybe happened in the past. But Aaron Rodgers’ interests, from his health standpoint, is the primary focus. And we’re preparing to do everything we need to do to as a football team to beat the Dallas Cowboys.”
After Thursday’s practice, Rodgers said one thing absolutely must happen in order for him to play against the Cowboys, which would mark his first action since breaking the collarbone Nov. 4 against Chicago: He’ll have to take the majority of the first-team snaps in practice on Friday.
Asked whether a CT scan, MRI or x-ray would be the deciding factor in whether he plays, Rodgers replied, “I think there’s more to it than that (just a scan). But I would guess there would have to be another scan for me to be on the field.”
Rodgers indicated that the team would make a decision on his status on Friday, in fairness to backup Matt Flynn, who led the Packers to their first victory without Rodgers last Sunday, a 22-21 triumph over Atlanta that left the Packers at 1-4-1 since Rodgers’ injury and 6-6-1 overall.
“Like I said last week, when I knew it wasn’t going to happen, it’s not fair to Matt to draw this out to the game,” Rodgers said. “If I’m going to play Sunday, I’m going to need to take the majority of the reps tomorrow.”
Asked how Rodgers has looked in practice the past two days, quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said, “You know, in the team reps, I haven’t seen any rust. He’s been working in the individuals with us for a few weeks now, so I haven’t seen any at this point. … He’s been in the offense forever, and the offense is built around him and we don’t anticipate any problems if he were to go.”
Whether Rodgers returns or not, though, Nelson emphasized that Rodgers’ teammates have to continue to approach their individual jobs the same. Despite the recent good news about the quarterback’s progress, Nelson said the other players – himself included – can’t get their hopes up for Rodgers’ return until
“Obviously he’s been out there practicing more than he has. And you know there’s a chance (he will play), but if you allow that to affect how you prepare and how you’re going to play, then we have bigger issues than if he’s playing or not,” said Nelson, who despite the quarterback carousel has caught 67 passes for 1,046 yards and seven touchdowns on the year – with 27 receptions for 370 yards coming from the Packers’ other quarterbacks. “That goes for however many weeks we’ve been without him.
“To me, you just go about your job individually, as normal, and then if he’s able to step on that field, obviously that’d be a big boost for us. But we can’t sit here hoping that and then he not play and then we’re all devastated. I’m not saying to expect the worst, hope for the best, but you just go about your job and be prepared the way you want to play, the way you need to play, no matter who’s at quarterback. And then find out who’s throwing us the ball.”
And if and when that person is Rodgers, Nelson expects him to look the same as he did at the time of his injury. On the season, Rodgers has completed 168 of 251 passes (66.9 percent) for 2,218 yards with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions (108.0 rating) in six-plus games played.
“We’ve been around long enough that, when he comes back, we expect him to be the way he’s been,” Nelson said. “I don’t think the situation is, ‘How is he going to play?’ It’s, ‘What can he take, as far as hits?’ Any player with a broken bone, yeah, you might be able to do some stuff, but until you take that blow, there’s only one way to find out. We have to make sure that all the scans are right, and him and the doctors will take care of that.”
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.