Posted on August 13 2014
Sweat the Small Stuff
Aaron Rodgers is one of the most accurate and efficient quarterbacks in NFL history. His coach says he arrived at camp in ‘the best shape I’ve ever seen.’ What’s the Green Bay star’s offseason secret?
“In the first three months of the offseason, I did a ton of yoga,” Rodgers says. “Hot yoga. Very hot. Lots of sweating. It helped me. I feel a lot better right now.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. — When I go from camp to camp every summer, I often ask what players did in the offseason to get better. In the Packers camp, the emphasis hasn’t been as much about skill improvement. The mantra has been about injury-prevention, and conditioning to avoid injuries. With a player like Clay Matthews, that means conditioning his troublesome hamstring injury, which has robbed him time in each of the past two seasons. But it was interesting Monday when I asked coach Mike McCarthy about Aaron Rodgers’ improvement.
“He has always come back in great shape, but this year it’s a little different,” McCarthy said before the Packers went through a private practice. “He did different things, and he’s in the best shape, ready to go, that I’ve ever seen him in.”
On the field, you could see a little different Rodgers—a leaner, more lithe and sinewy physique, particularly in the upper body, than I remembered from past camps. There’s no carryover, at least from anything I saw, from his broken collarbone last year. He threw the ball hard and with his usually sharp accuracy. After the 130-minute practice, working on specific things for the Green Bay opener at Seattle in 23 days, Rodgers took his quarterback group and ran eight sprints, leading the way in each.
Time marches on for Rodgers. He’s 30 now, and though it seems his football life just started, he’s in the middle age of what’s shaping up to be a historic career. His career quarterback rating (104.9) is the best ever, 7.7 points higher than Peyton Manning’s. His interceptions percentage—1.8 picks per 100 throws—is the lowest of any active passer. His yards per attempt, 8.2, is the best of any quarterback playing. Only Drew Brees (65.9 percent) has a better completion rate, and that’s just by a smidge—Rodgers’ is 65.8 percent.
Think of this, to put Rodgers’ career in some perspective: His rating, accuracy, yards-per-attempt, touchdown percentage and interception percentage all are better than Peyton Manning’s. Not only is he efficient, but also he’s efficient downfield. His yards-per-attempt number is such that he has to be throwing a bunch deep, and he’s doing that without many of those throws resulting in interceptions, which shows how accurate he is throwing deep. That’s rare.
And with six or seven prime years left, barring injury, he’ll have the Packers in position to be contenders every year. Green Bay goes to the starting line this year knowing if the defense can rebound to be a top-10 group with the addition of Julius Peppers, Rodgers will give them a chance to play into late January. Or farther.
So this off-season, in keeping with the Packer way of ramping up the conditioning, Rodgers took up yoga, among other things.
“I worked with a group in Westlake [Calif.], with a lot of NFL guys,” Rodgers said by his locker Monday afternoon. “It was fun. Different types of training. Uptempo stuff. Some yoga mixed in. Some boxing. Running the sand dunes there at Malibu Canyon. I paired that with my attention to nutrition.
“In the first three months of the offseason, I did a ton of yoga. I hadn’t done that much of that before. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. The stretching, the atmosphere, the group setting, a teacher helping you get the maximum flexibility. Hot yoga. Very hot. Lots of sweating. Tell you what: I felt so great after those sessions. My sleep improved—my sleep patterns, every night. My energy improved. I didn’t have to drink coffee as much the next day. I like to drink coffee. On some days, it’s a necessity for me, to get going, to get a little jolt. Here, it wasn’t necessary, doing yoga three days a week. I love it. I mixed up my training in Westlake. It helped me. I feel a lot better right now.”
I asked him about the numbers, and how he was able over time to be so efficient downfield while keeping the turnovers down. (Touchdown passes: 188. Picks: 52.)
“It’s working in an imperfect environment,” he said. “I like to do drill work, and in drills, it’s exaggerating the most difficult way to do the work. I like to throw from different platforms. I feel like to win in this league you have to be very accurate when the settings are perfect. When you have a clean pocket, when you’ve got room and space and a receiver you can see, you have to be perfect. But who can hit the throws when you are forced to slide off the spot, run full speed to your left. Who can make those throw accurately? Those are the throws I like to work on in practice, so when you get in the game, you say, ‘I’ve already made those throws.’ I expect to be accurate on those throws as well.”
We’re watching an impresario play, in mid-career. Because Rodgers is not a look-at-me guy, we don’t appreciate him enough. We often don’t appreciate players like this fully until they’re gone. But anyone who throws 101 touchdowns with 20 interceptions over three seasons should be appreciated, and immediately. It’s going to be great to watch the opener, and to watch Green Bay try to catch Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC, regardless of the outcome in Seattle on Sept. 4.
BY PETER KING