GREEN BAY, Wis. — For D.J. Williams, it could have gotten very ugly, very fast. His family and friends were all watching.
As a rookie last season — in the “Monday Night Football” glow for the first time — Williams was caught daydreaming. The Green Bay Packers were trouncing the Minnesota Vikings by 24 points in the fourth quarter and Williams’ eyes were fixated on the Jumbotron.
Fellow tight end Andrew Quarless had caught a pass in the flat and slipped over his own feet at the Vikings’ 5-yard line.
“I said, ‘Ah, no! Drew!’” Williams said. “But at the same time, the personnel was being called for a tempo play and I’m just standing watching the Jumbotron.”
So there was quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his teammates lining up for the next play. All 10 of them. A clueless Williams ran onto the field about a day late and Rodgers called a timeout. Coach Mike McCarthy chewed Williams out. Position coach Ben McAdoo chewed Williams out.
Rodgers? Not quite. As Williams recalls, the quarterback told him, “No big deal. I was going to call a timeout anyway.”
“He knows who he’s talking to,” Williams said, “and who can handle what.”
Then maybe it’s no surprise to see a wide-eyed rookie treated differently from, say, veteran wide receiver James Jones.
Rodgers’ reaction to Jones after an interception during the fourth quarter of Thursday’s 23-10 win over the Chicago Bears quickly warped into the talking point du jour. Analysts ripped Rodgers and Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler for criticizing teammates in front of a national audience. Even the agent for Packers tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Desmond Bishop tweeted that Rodgers “isn’t a great leader.”
QB in command
On Tuesday, teammates staunchly defended Rodgers’ leadership ability. Jones, Williams, Finley and veteran Donald Driver all maintain that Rodgers’ leadership style works.
“For people to question his leadership is ridiculous,” Jones said. “He’s a natural-born leader, not just by what he says, but how he carries himself, how he plays the game, how he handles certain situations. Everybody in this locker room looks up to him as a leader. Everybody in this locker room believes in him.”
To review, Jones failed to flatten off his route against the Bears, leading to Tim Jennings’ interception. Cameras shining brightly, Rodgers lashed out at Jones. The quarterback later apologized for showing his emotions, though Jones told him there was no need to apologize.
He didn’t have a problem with it, taking responsibility for the poor route.
“I’m sure a lot of people here got kids, right?” Jones said to a group of reporters at his locker Tuesday. “Your kids do something wrong, you yell at them every once in awhile. You tell them, ‘You can’t do that. Don’t go back by that outlet.’ You do it again, Daddy gonna pop you. That’s all it is. We’re a family out there. Sometimes we argue, sometimes that stuff is going to happen.”
These things happen, teammates repeat. Frustration and emotion are a byproduct of the game.
Driver says he has never had a problem with a quarterback getting on his case after a mistake. That’s part of the job description, of the leadership Rodgers’ position demands.
“You made a mistake. So if you make a mistake, of course you’re going to get something,” Driver said. “It’s not one of those things where you come to the sideline and think you’re not going to get chewed out for a mistake. It happens. It happened my rookie year and it’s going to continue to happen as I continue to play this game.
“I think every quarterback would do it. It’s not just one quarterback that does it. There are 32 quarterbacks in the National Football League. If some mistake happens, they show expressions, gestures or they come talk to the person that made the mistake. That’s part of it. Even the head coach does it. The offensive coordinator does it.”
More fuel to the fire came via Twitter. After criticizing Cutler, agent Blake Baratz tweeted, “ARod is a great QB he isn’t a great leader. There’s a major difference. Leaders take the blame &make every1 better. He doesn’t.” Since then, Baratz has clarified his comments through a series of tweets, affirming that he believes Rodgers is the best quarterback in football but is a different leader than New Orleans’ Drew Brees or New England’s Tom Brady.
Finley declined to comment to the Journal Sentinel but did tweet that “(at)AaronRodgers12 is our leader, period. I’m focused on Sea, I have a job 2 do, won’t let u down. Family can disagree it makes us all stronger.”
No doubt who’s in charge
With that Super Bowl ring and MVP trophy to back up Rodgers’ actions, Williams says this is what teammates want. They want a quarterback who will jump on them if something goes awry. Into his second year, Williams insisted Rodgers’ leadership style is effective. He’s player-specific. The tight end said Rodgers tries to relate to each player on his level. With the receivers, the line of communication to discuss routes stays open during all practices and games.
And in the meeting room, Williams added, Rodgers is “very engaged” and that he “takes care of his players and has us prepared to play.” His leadership is rooted in an attention to detail.
“He’s a phenomenal leader,” Williams said. “So a comment like that is very, I don’t want to say ignorant, but I guess I’ll say it anyway. They don’t really know what’s going on in this locker room.”
Driver added: “I don’t see anything he’s done wrong as a leader. I think he has handled himself well. He’s been a pro’s pro since he came into the league. So I don’t think that’s ever going to change… .
“He’s the same person. He doesn’t change. He’s been the same person since he came in here in ‘05. I don’t think it’s going to ever change for him. His character’s there, his integrity. What he says is what you’re going to see. I don’t think it changes for anyone.”
Rodgers’ actions Thursday were different from Cutler’s. In addition to his verbal scolding, the Bears quarterback made physical contact with tackle J’Marcus Webb to get his point across. Williams isn’t sure what the relationship is like between Cutler and his offensive line, what that dynamic entails.
Here in Green Bay, he says the climate is clear with Rodgers.
“I don’t see Aaron doing anything like that,” he said, “but if he did, he’ll do it to someone where he knows that’s how he has to get to that player.”
Rodgers was kind to him a year ago. Williams isn’t ready to test his luck again.
These days, he’s not following the action on the Jumbotron.
“Not very often,” he said, smiling. “If Drew would have never slipped, we wouldn’t have ever had that problem.”