SPARTANBURG, S.C. – One particular New York Jets player opted to watch the final few snaps of the joint practice session on Wednesday from, of all places, the Carolina Panthers sideline.
OK, it wasn’t just any ol’ Jet. It was Aaron Rodgers.
And boy, did one particular fan give the only Jet on the Panthers sideline an earful as the star quarterback chatted with new Carolina receiver Adam Thielen.
“Shut up!” Rodgers shouted back at the man. “You’re on the other side of the fence!”
The trash-talking was on.
The fan barked back: “Come to the Queen City and we’re going to tear you up!”
Rodgers was hardly agitated. As the banter continued, Rodgers’ huge grin suggested it was all in fun.
Sure, it’s a bit strange to see Rodgers in a Jets uniform after nearly two decades with the Packers. Yet he is still well-equipped to perhaps get in the last word as he seeks to turn his celebrated move to the Big Apple into another championship.
But still: Did this treatment from fans remind Rodgers of playing at Soldier Field?
“What fans?” Rodgers contended to the USA TODAY Sports following a practice. “It was one guy!”
One guy, quite eager to spread some so-called Southern Hospitality.
Rodgers won’t play in the preseason game between the teams on Saturday, but he saw the joint practice as a serviceable alternative to getting a few preseason snaps.
“That was the most reps we’ve taken as a first-team offense all camp,” Rodgers said. “So, there are going to be tired guys.”
Although Rodgers, 39, is breaking into new territory after 18 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, it’s expected that he’ll sit out the entire preseason before getting his first game action in the Jets’ regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills in a Monday night showcase at Met Life Stadium on Sept. 11.
Asked if he wanted to play in preseason, Rodgers told reporters, “I don’t care. I haven’t played in a while. I’ll be ready, either way.”
Rodgers looked typically sharp in the work against the Panthers, often hitting receivers in rhythm on short- and intermediate-level throws and dropping dimes on deep passes. In other words, he may wear a different shade of green now, but it was the same old Rodgers, who was also light on his feet and fluid with his movement as he rolled out of the pocket.
Of course, no practices are perfect. Rodgers’ day ended when he was touched for a would-be sack (the play was whistled dead, of course) by edge rusher Brian Burns, who barreled in from the quarterback’s blind side.
Burns didn’t have the chance to tackle Rodgers to the turf, given the rules of engagement during joint practices. But at least Burns, emerging as one of the NFL’s most dynamic pass-rushers, got a chance to perform his sack dance.
“Hey, you’ve got to have some fun with it,” Burns told USA TODAY Sports.
Burns enjoyed the chance to match wits with Rodgers on the first of two days of joint practices.
“He’s a veteran quarterback,” Burns told reporters from the podium. “He knows how to disguise things, he knows how to figure out things. He got me a couple of times on play-action. He’s good at what he does. Having that keeps you honest.”
It was striking to witness the contrast in the starting quarterbacks at the practice. While Rodgers commands the spotlight (including the crew filming “Hard Knocks” in the Jets’ camp this summer), the Panthers rookie quarterback, Bryce Young, attracts attention as the NFL’s No. 1 pick overall.
As the practice began, Rodgers visited briefly with Young.
“I like the kid a lot,” Rodgers said. “We share an agent (David Dunn), so I’ve known about him for a long time. I loved watching him in college. I like his demeanor. I like his movement. I like the way he throws.”
Rodgers was asked if he had any advice for Young.
“Be gentle with yourself,” Rodgers said. “It’s a long journey. It feels like every little snap in practice is the end of the world if it doesn’t go right. It’s not true. It’s a long journey. You’ve got to hold onto your confidence and enjoy the ride.”
Rodgers knows. It might also provide him with the last word.