Anthony Hargrove seems the type to exaggerate. He's boisterous, loud and demonstrative. A walking, talking, shouting, laughing, razzing, rollicking and relentless ball of energy, he bounces around on the sidelines, dispensing high-fives and helmet slaps, utterly exuberant. He's brought personality and life to the Packers' downtrodden defensive line. Again, he just seems like one to embellish the truth.
But sitting in front of his locker Monday, talking about quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Hargrove wasn't taking any hyperbolic liberties. He was earnest and matter-of-fact, though almost incredulous at Rodgers' passing abilities. He compared Rodgers to another Super Bowl MVP, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Hargrove's former teammate who set the single-season record for passing yards last year.
Then Hargrove said Rodgers was better.
“You know what? I've never seen a quarterback make some of the throws that A-Rod does. And I played with Drew Brees for two years,” the bearded defensive lineman said after practice. “When you see A-Rod put those balls on the back shoulder, you're like, ‘Really, what can you do as a defensive player?' You watch some of the 30-yard bullets that he throws, and you're just like, ‘Dude, how are you doing that?'"
Indeed, Rodgers has looked in midseason form so far in training camp. The reigning MVP has shown off the accuracy and arm strength that helped him set a league record of his own last year, that of passer rating (122.5). In practice, he rifles the ball to his wideouts with tremendous speed and force, conjuring memories of Brett Favre breaking his receivers' fingers in his Green Bay days.
The Packers' prolific offense propelled the team to a franchise-best 15-1 record last season. But in the playoff loss to the Giants, the juggernaut faltered. Wide receiver drops, running back fumbles and uncharacteristically ordinary quarterback play – as well as another dreadful performance on defense – brought the record-shattering season to a screeching halt.
Rodgers was asked last week if he thought the offense could get better. He admitted it would be tough, noting the Packers' “tough schedule.” Consistency, he said, is critical.
“It's all about consistency for us, just finding ways to do better, especially in the situational categories,” Rodgers said. “If you look at the red-zone stats, third-down stats, there's definitely room for improvement there.”
Maybe. Rodgers is certainly his own toughest critic, a self-motivator with a long memory for stats and slights, both good and bad. But it's tough to imagine the offense quantifiably improving in even those two areas. Last season, the Packers were the league's third-best team at converting on third down (48 percent). As for the red zone? Rodgers threw 28 touchdowns against just one interception, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
For his part, Hargrove is content to watch and be wowed, glad to be on Rodgers' side now.
“It's just amazing to watch the offense, as prolific and as special as they are," he said. "The guys up front, everybody knows where they're going, even (center) Jeff Saturday coming in and fitting in as a new guy in there. Hats off to coach [Mike] McCarthy and what he's done with that offense. And A-Rod, you really can't say enough. That's why he's the best.”
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