GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Patience, the way Aaron Rodgers sees it, can be more than a virtue. It can be part of a process to actualize hopes and visions. So when he sees the Jaguars nurturing Blake Bortles, instead of expecting Bortles to nurture the rest of the team, he smiles.
"What they are doing has a lot of merit," the quarterback of the Packers said of the Jaguars' approach with the third pick of the draft. "Some of these guys who are going to bad teams are expected to play well right away. It's hard to do that. I've seen a couple guys able to do it. [Ben] Roethlisberger was able to do it. He had a team kind of around him. [Joe] Flacco had some success early but he had a team kind of in place. You go to a place that has some pieces and you can have some success early. But if you go to a team that doesn't have the pieces… it can really mess with your confidence."
Rodgers understands the benefits of waiting. Or being forced to wait. He came to the Packers in 2005 and was Brett Favre's backup for three years before becoming the starter.
It wasn't always pleasant then. In his first year, he threw passes in just two games -- at the end of a 52-3 win, at the end of a 48-3 loss. In the second game, he fumbled twice and watched two defenders recover and score.
Then there was a coaching change and a new offense to learn. New coach Mike McCarthy had him sitting in quarterback school for six hours a day in the offseason. And he was ordered to cut his body fat. In his second year he came off the bench in a 35-0 blowout loss in November and he broke his foot, ending his season. At one point, Rodgers was rumored to be the subject of trade talks with the Raiders.
But Rodgers made the best of it. As the scout team quarterback, he approached every chance on the practice field like a fourth quarter drive with the Super Bowl on the line. Favre didn't want to be his mentor, so Rodgers just followed him around and wrote down everything he said.
Now, with the perspective of a 30-year-old and the perfect vision of hindsight, Rodgers believes that long apprenticeship made him the quarterback he is today. "I learned a lot in those years, how to attack quickly and play slowly," said Rodgers, a former MVP and Super Bowl champion. "It was the best thing to happen to me."
Rodgers would like to see more young quarterbacks go through similar deliberate acclimations. "You look at a guy like [Jimmy] Garoppolo," Rodgers said. "He's in a good spot with the Patriots. If he can wait two, three, four years that will make him more ready to play right away. It will help him get his body in great shape and learn offense and defense, and he won't feel that pressure early on. When you see other quarterbacks who might have to play quickly like [Teddy] Bridgewater potentially in Minnesota and Johnny [Manziel] in Cleveland, who knows if their teams are ready enough to complement their skills?"
Rodgers believes younger quarterbacks may be better prepared than quarterbacks from his era were, based on the way youth football has changed, placing a greater emphasis on the passing game and more sophistication in training. But no matter how much good coaching a young passer has had, the leap to the NFL remains challenging.
For Rodgers, the advantages of waiting still are being realized. "I do feel younger because of it," Rodger said. "I think it extended my career."
When he was a younger player, Rodgers used to talk about playing until he was 36 or 37. Not anymore. Nine years into his career, he said, "I hope I have nine more chances at it."
He also recently tweeted this:
9 years ago the G & G took a chance on a 21 year old kid from Cali. It's been an amazing run, looking forward to more memories. #9in9togo— Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) April 23, 2014
Even though Rodgers is coming off his first significant injury since his second season, he is feeling healthy, strong and energetic. That's part of why he sees so much sand remaining in the top half of his career hourglass. During minicamp this week, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers is having his best spring, and he is impressed with the shape Rodgers is in.
Rodgers weighs about 220, which is down about five pounds from his playing weight last year and ten pounds from his weight at this time a year ago. He attributes the weight loss to eating right -- frequent meals, smaller portions, lean meats and vegetables. He also has embraced yoga as a way to increase flexibility and extend his career and active life. "I'm going to put myself in position to play as long as I can," said Rodgers, still tan from offseason golfing in San Diego.
It seems like Rodgers has been a veteran for a long time now, but his maturity continues. The quarterback is evolving with his role and his surroundings.
While Jermichael Finley bobs as a free agent, Rodgers goes over a route with third-round tight end Richard Rodgers on the practice field. Old reliable James Jones is in Oakland now, so Rodgers tries to coach up rookie Davante Adams. Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, who also were instrumental in Rodgers' success, are long gone. "It's the league," Rodgers said. "I've seen so many guys come and go. It is different because we had [Driver] for a lot of years, Greg a lot of years, James a lot of years. There were a lot of touchdowns, a lot of yards, a lot of wins. We have to find a way to make it work a little differently."
At a time when Rodgers is rumored to be interested in investing in the Milwaukee Bucks, it also is clear he has invested in his Packers. One of the reasons he spends to much time at Lambeau Field, even when he doesn't have to, is his commitment to his young teammates.
A friend of McCarthy's recently sent him an old Candid Camera video of the Asch Conformity Experiment. In it, a number of people walk in an elevator with one person who is not aware of the experiment. All of the people in the know stand facing one direction. Eventually, the person who doesn't know what's going on faces the same way. They take their hats off. He does the same. They put their hats back on. He follows.
As he watched the video, McCarthy thought of Rodgers, the player to whom others conform. "I think you see Aaron's leadership here," he said. "It's about developing leaders as well as followers. The followers have to follow the right guys because they start behaving the same way. You talk about what your program stands for, what is the Packer way. This is our ninth year. Aaron has been here the whole time. We're seeing the positive effects."
Part of being a leader is knowing how to conform to others, too. Alex Van Pelt now is Rodgers' third quarterbacks coach in four years. He was moved from running backs coach to replace Ben McAdoo, who left in the offseason to be the Giants offensive coordinator. "Alex brings a different look, different ideas to the room," Rodgers said. "He played the position for a long time, so he knows what the quarterback is thinking at all times. He and I got close when he was the running back coach and it's been fun to be able to work with him every day. He has a great knowledge of the game. I'm excited about how he can take my game to the next level."
Rodgers doesn't worry about things out of his control as much as he used to. Intrusions on his private life used to bother him more. This offseason when his relationship with actress Olivia Munn was exposed, and overexposed, he just shrugged. "I'm 30," he said. "It might have meant more to me 10 years ago I'm going to live my life, enjoy my personal life and not worry about the other stuff that comes with it. It's part of it. It's not what you sign up for. You sign up to play football. But it comes with it. If you hide from it, you'll go crazy. If I happen to get photographed time to time, it's part of it."
Surrendering to the journey has made Rodgers what he is today.