On the NFL
6:52 PM CDT, September 10, 2012
GREEN BAY — It happened gradually, like a beard coming in on a teenager.
But now, this season, finally, it is all over his face: Aaron Rodgers is the leader of the Pack.
Really, at the ripe old age of 28, in his eighth NFL season, he is more than the leader. And more than the best quarterback in this universe.
He is an elder statesman.
Donald Driver is the only player on the roster who was there when Rodgers arrived in Green Bay in 2005. Rodgers is the only one left from his 11-player draft class. He has survived Brett Favre, outlasted Nick Collins and seen Matt Flynn come and go. Only four Packers teammates have been in the league longer.
"It's crazy," Rodgers said, looking around. "I do feel older now in this locker room. I'm still 28, but it's a different feeling. That's the kind of league we are in, though. It's a young man's game. By young I mean 25 and under."
As is the case with everything he does, Rodgers approaches aging professionally. That is, he is claiming more ownership of his team.
"Aaron has become more vocal," wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. "He knows he is the leader of the team. Guys like myself, all we've ever known is Aaron. He has stepped up by the way he performs, the way he practices and the way he communicates with people. He talks a lot more, making sure we are all on the same page. He has made more of a point to make sure people are hearing what he's saying."
In pregame warm-ups at Lambeau Field on Thursday as the Packers prepare to take on the Bears, take note of how Rodgers will call in the receivers, tight ends and running backs as a group and deliver some pointers.
Telling teammates what to do isn't the most natural thing for Rodgers. But he does what he needs to do.
"Aaron understands his role, what he means to the team," Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. "He prepares to be the best. He takes it seriously. The guys see that every day, they follow that."
Rodgers said he has learned a lot about leadership by watching and talking to Woodson, the 15-year veteran who spent the first eight years of his career with the Raiders.
"He and I have a constant dialogue about the locker room, how it's looking, the team, what we can do, what we can talk to Coach about," Rodgers said. "It's great having him here because he understands team dynamics and leadership."
Rodgers always has respected the opinions of veterans. As a result, he understands what he says and does now affects younger players.
"Because of your experience and success you've had, you have instant credibility with those guys," he said. "You have more opportunities to lead. Some of that is out of my personality. I'm more of a lead-by-example guy. But there definitely are times you need to step out of that comfort zone and realize your voice carries a greater weight because of the success, experience and age, even at 28."
What comes naturally to Rodgers is connecting with teammates. He always has been a leader in that regard.
Even early in his career, he would invite teammates to his house for social events because he knew there was a value in bonding. Going into his second season, he suggested the wide receivers and quarterbacks watch tape together.
"I've always wanted to be remembered as a good teammate and a guy who really cared about his teammates, got to know them, spent time with them, cared about them doing well on the field and off the field," Rodgers said. "I want the young quarterbacks to say I helped them and was encouraging and wanted to pass on the knowledge I have. I think Matt Flynn would say that now in Seattle. Hopefully Graham (Harrell) and B.J. (Coleman) would say the same thing because those relationships are going to last longer than the memories of scores or stats."
Woodson has noticed that Rodgers has not changed in how he treats teammates as Rodgers has become more successful. The quarterback would be one of the last Packers to big time someone. "One of the guys" is how Woodson describes him.
Blending in comes naturally for Rodgers.
Keeping things fresh after you've been doing them for eight years, not so much.
Rodgers acknowledges it has become more challenging to be enthusiastic about the mundane aspects of his job as he ages. But he realizes the value in it extends beyond whatever personal gain is at stake.
"What I've learned about leadership is how important my role is on the day-to-day activities to my team," he said. "It is more difficult to get excited and energized about a practice or a meeting. But guys are looking to me for that energy and enthusiasm every day. It's really important for the success of our practices, which can translate into a team really starting to build and grow. I will be thinking about it as I continue to get older, how important my mannerisms and demeanor is to this team, even in carrying out the day-to-day, monotonous duties."
Now that is more than a great quarterback. That is a leader of men.
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