Vikings' defensive line intent on putting pressure on young quarterback making his first NFL start

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There really was no scenario that would have allowed Aaron Rodgers to quietly ease into his new job as the Green Bay Packers' quarterback.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There really was no scenario that would have allowed Aaron Rodgers to quietly ease into his new job as the Green Bay Packers' quarterback.

But it's hard to imagine a debut being much more intense than Monday night's season opener against Minnesota at Lambeau Field.

For starters, most of the league has the night off and will be watching Rodgers' first start that counts. That presumably includes Brett Favre, who was sent packing in a trade to the New York Jets after his second thoughts on retirement rattled Rodgers and distracted the team during training camp.

And while the Packers' division rivalry with the Vikings didn't really need any extra spice, that's what happened after the Packers accused the Vikings of tampering with the then-retired Favre in the offseason.

The charge was dismissed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, but won't soon be forgotten by either organization.


The Packers won the division and went to the NFC title game last season, but the Vikings are widely regarded as the division favorites this year. Oh, and the Vikings' newest defensive star apparently is planning something akin to video game-style violence on Rodgers.

Good luck with all that, kid.

"We're out trying to get whatever the other guy's name is," Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams said. "I don't even want to say his name, because he ain't Favre. Know what I'm saying? He ain't Favre, so I'm not going to say his name."

But the levelheaded Rodgers isn't going to let a swarm of outside pressure and some predictable pregame yapping ruin the moment he's been waiting three years for.

"It's definitely a little surreal," said Rodgers, who played sparingly as Favre's backup after being taken in the first round of the 2005 draft. "It feels like it's gone by quick, but I know the years individually went by a little slow. It's nice to be able to be the guy now and have an opportunity to be one of the leaders of this football team and hopefully get things started off on the right foot."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers handled the Favre controversy as well as anyone could and is ready for the regular season.

"There is probably nothing I could really compare this to, as far as the situation he's had to go through," McCarthy said. "I think he's been able to trust his heart and do things right, day in and day out. He's continued to prepare. He's continued to stay focused on playing quarterback because that's ultimately all he can control."

Rodgers showed a few signs of cracking at the height of the Favre controversy, struggling in practice and a scrimmage when it appeared Favre could actually rejoin the Packers to compete for the starting job.


Once Favre was traded, Rodgers recovered to have a good preseason, providing evidence to skeptical Packers fans that the team's front office might know what it's doing after all.

But now the games count, and Rodgers must face a fierce Vikings defensive front with a patchwork offensive line that has rotated players at both guard positions throughout camp. Green Bay might be without injured starting center Scott Wells for the opener.

In Pat and Kevin Williams, the Vikings already had what is perhaps the league's most feared defensive tackle tandem. Now they've added defensive end Jared Allen and his 15 1-2 sacks last season in an offseason trade with Kansas City.

Allen clearly wants to make an impression on Rodgers, saying in an interview with during training camp that he hopes to "put my helmet square in the back of his spine." Allen wasn't quite as outspoken this week, saying that sentiment applied to whatever quarterback he happens to be playing against.

"They've got a good team over there," Allen said. "They were in the NFC championship game last year. They won the division last year. For us this is huge."

Pat Williams admitted the Vikings' attempts to get inside Rodgers' head were meant as a joke -- well, mostly.

"Just having fun," Williams said. "Especially with what happened last year. They kind of embarrassed us last year. So all the guys, they're kind of mad about that. So we just going out there and having some fun."

Rodgers shrugged it all off, praising Allen for his playing ability, creative sack dances and the "sweet" mullet he used to wear.


"Hey, he's a great player and we're going to have to block him," Rodgers said.

McCarthy downplayed the chatter coming out of Minnesota in recent days, but not without adding what could be interpreted as a subtle swipe of his own. McCarthy said he didn't see anything to be gained from it, adding that such talk "speaks volumes about the way they go about their business."

McCarthy continued to praise the way Rodgers has gone about his business. While it's true Rodgers was expected to prepare as if he was the starter when he was backing up Favre, McCarthy said going into a game as the starter is different.

"Life's different," McCarthy said. "Anytime you move from the 2 chair to the 1 chair, I think you're kidding yourself if you say it's not. It's you now."

Although he's only 24, Rodgers is taking on the role of a veteran leader. McCarthy praised Rodgers for helping the Packers' younger players navigate the transition from training camp to the regular season, and putting in the required extra time in the film room.

"He came in early on Monday just to make sure he had it before everybody else," McCarthy said. "And he needs to continue to do that. You need to continue to put in extra work. That's part of being the starter, and every starter I've been around has done the same."

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