On September 8, 2008, Aaron Rodgers started his first game as an NFL quarterback. In the three years between his selection in the 2005 draft and that first start, Rodgers had taken snaps in only seven games with a total of 35 completed passes on 59 attempts. That first start resulted in a Packer victory, 24-19 over Tavares Jackson and the Vikings. Rodgers first win, helped by a 76 yard punt return by Will Blackmon, started a Hall of Fame career. But three years in waiting did not lead to immediate team success. The Packer 2008 season ended with no postseason; a 6-10 record including two overtime losses (Tennessee and Chicago) and Rodgers’ Packers third in the NFC North Division.
In the three years Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre, he was never given the amount of first team reps that Jordan Love is getting this spring. He was never the unified focus of his coaches or his teammates. Three traits all NFL quarterbacks must have; A strong accurate arm, the ability to quickly process multiple reads of passing options based on the defense, and the ability to handle pressure. Pressure is not just about an oncoming pass rush. It includes looking teammates, coaches, the press and fans in the eye and telling them you are confident. Then backing those statements up on the field by making plays.
Jordan Love is getting his first taste of NFL pressure. He is no longer the kid in waiting. He is the first team QB in the huddle on Clark Hinkle Field. Still a big step from Lambeau, but it is the same first step every QB must take before they start for the Packers.
Every snap Love takes is beneficial to Love and the Packers. Love needs reps to improve. Packer coaches need tape to assess Love’s potential. A similar evaluation process will be conducted by teammates. If Love impresses, his progress will build confidence throughout the team. If Rodgers returns and is injured, the team will not believe all is lost. Rodgers could use Love’s improvements as motivation to continue to excel. Or, Rodgers retirement/trade momentum might be accelerated. But those are hypotheticals for the future.
Even if Love continues to improve on the practice field, regular season success will take time. Rodgers had Hall of Fame talent and his first season was a learning process. In 2009, Rodgers went 11-5 but lost in his first playoff game against veteran Kurt Warner’s Arizona Cardinals in OT. If Jordan Love starts for the Packers, in 2021 or beyond, fan expectations will need to be reset. The hope, is that the elimination of realistic Super Bowl dreams is short lived.