Rejoice! Football is back! After the long off-season, we finally saw the Green Bay Packers in action in their first preseason game. Believe it or not, they fell to the San Francisco 49ers, getting the loss out of the way so they can finally beat the Niners in the playoffs.
After months of speculation, we finally got to see the rookies, UDFAs, and free-agent acquisitions. While most starters stayed on the sidelines, we saw some promising play from young players expected to take the next step.
Amari Rodgers is one such player. The former third-round pick looked like a completely different player compared to last season. Thanks to rebuilding his body in the off-season and working under Rich Bisaccia’s tough love, Amari looks like a new man.
Rodgers’ rookie season was, in technical terms, really bad. He looked nothing like the Clemson playmaker Green Bay expected when they drafted him. He never became a factor as a receiver. Even when he got the chance, practice-squad call-ups significantly outplayed him. Rodgers fared even worse as a kick returner. At least, he was a non-factor as a receiver — he was a liability as a returner.
But, hey, rookies are generally bad. If you’ve reached your pinnacle as a rookie, you’re probably not going to have a great career. It also didn’t help that the Packers brought back Randall Cobb, who took over a big part of the role they drafted Rodgers to fill. Calling Rodgers a bust after one season was always premature, and he’s making the strides you’d want to see in Year 2.
Rodgers was an atypical pick for a Green Bay receiver, thanks to their usual size requirements. At 5’9″, he’s the shortest receiver they’ve taken. Gutekunst didn’t just see Rodgers as a receiver. Instead, he saw a do-it-all offensive player capable of coming out of the backfield. With his special teams ability, he was expected to upgrade the Tyler Ervin role.
That didn’t happen last season, so Rodgers made necessary adjustments. He’d put on weight to handle some of the running back-type duties he expected to face. He also spent the off-season getting back in shape, hiring a private chef to get back into his college form.
“The reason I wasn’t able to play as much was because I wasn’t in shape the way I wanted to,” Rodgers said earlier this off-season. “I wasn’t able to go out there and play fast the way I want to because of my body type, how much I weighed, and how I was moving. I really took that to heart this offseason.”
Rodgers looks much more decisive and explosive in his preseason debut, so the changes certainly helped. Rodgers had a nice 22-yard touchdown reception from Danny Etling in the second half, highlighting the burst he was drafted to provide. On the night, Rodgers caught one of two targets for 22 yards, rushed once for four yards, and returned two kickoffs for 69 yards — including a beautiful 50-yard return in the first half.
The 50-yard return alone was better than his entire 2021 season and showcased why Matt LaFleur didn’t change kicker returners last season. The run was decisive, confident, and quick. The only thing that could knock him down was Rashan Gary‘s affectionate but devastating hug.
Getting his body back in shape and slowing the game down certainly help. But Rich Bisaccia’s influence played a big part in Rodgers’ improvement. The short, angry Italian special teams coordinator was hard on Rodgers this off-season, unafraid to give the young receiver a piece of his mind. Bisaccia employed tough love, including cursing out the former Clemson Tiger.
Rodgers responded well to Bisaccia’s high expectations.
“If you’re not getting nothing said to you, that means you’re doing something wrong, he said. “If he’s coaching me up, that means he wants to see me do well. So whenever he yells at me, I know it’s all love at the end of the day.”
Rodgers knows what his rookie season looked like and relished the chance to improve. And no one was more excited for Rodgers’ success than Bisaccia, who loves seeing everything come together.
Rodgers still has a ways to go before he can be a reliable part of the offense. LaFleur mentioned Sunday there were some good plays but a lot to clean up. In particular, Rodgers ran the wrong route on the second of Jordan Love‘s three interceptions against the 49ers, not helping the third-year quarterback.
But Rodgers’ improvements are just what the Packers need with their unproven wide receiver corps. The focus is on the rookies and Sammy Watkins, but Rodgers is a recent third-round pick. He has a different skill set than his peers and can bring these unique assets to the offensive game plan. He may start a bit buried on the depth chart, but the early preseason results are promising.