GREEN BAY — The Thursday morning pancake tradition lives on, although what was once a breakfast banquet in the Green Bay Packers team cafeteria inside Lambeau Field has been reduced to a table for two: Aaron Rodgers and Lucas Patrick.
It began years ago, with director of performance nutrition Adam Korzun’s special recipe. While no one will divulge the ingredients, given Korzun’s role, you can bet his flapjacks are fortified with protein, vitamins and nutrients you won’t find in the pancakes at the local IHOP.
The debate at the table, though, was about topping them. Patrick, now in his fifth NFL season as the Packers’ versatile, do-it-all interior lineman, had always been an old-school syrup guy. Rodgers, the three-time NFL MVP now in his 17th year and 14th as the starting quarterback? Peanut butter.
“I’ve definitely adopted the peanut butter from him,” Patrick confessed this week, as the Packers prepared for Sunday’s game against the Washington Football Team — which Patrick will start at center in place of injured rookie Josh Myers. “Tasty.”
The culinary delights notwithstanding, it’s the conversations that Rodgers and Patrick have that supersede the menu. And the pair had one of those conversations recently, Rodgers said following last Sunday’s win at Chicago, where Patrick came into the game after four plays when Myers suffered a knee injury that’s expected to keep him out multiple weeks.
“I’m really proud of Lucas. We sat down a couple Thursdays ago, had a real heart to heart. I love the kid,” Rodgers said following the team’s 24-14 victory at Soldier Field. “I have a lot of trust in him, a lot of respect for the way he goes about his business. He’s a pro’s pro. (There’s) not much else you can say. I thought he handled things really well.”
Rodgers didn’t get into the specifics of his conversation with Patrick, and Patrick didn’t, either, when he spoke with reporters earlier this week. But he made it clear just how much that conversation, and his other talks with Rodgers, have meant to him — something he’s spoken about before, following a national story in which two of Rodgers’ unhappy ex-teammates criticized his leadership style.
“Sometimes, he talks most of the time. Sometimes, I talk most of the time,” Patrick said. “It’s just a good time to plug into a good person. I think that’s the best thing to say about him and who he’s been to me — and I’d probably say (to) a majority of everyone who’s come through this locker room. He’s willing to open up and give as well as you’re willing to give back. I’m very appreciative of our time every Thursday.”
Asked if he’d been struggling with anything in particular going into their most recent sit-down, Patrick replied, “I think every athlete struggles with something every day — but we tend to hide it. We’ve got stuff off the field, (too). It’s not necessarily every time it’s Xs or Os, or how things are going in the building.
“I truly appreciate his friendship and being able to share things that are happening off the field and just getting to know each other better that way.”
No one would have blamed Patrick for being unhappy with how this season had been playing out for him.
After starting 17 of the Packers’ 18 games last season (including playoffs) at guard and playing a career-high 939 regular-season offensive snaps, Patrick seemed to be in line to take over as the starting center following the offseason free agent departure of first-team All-Pro Corey Linsley.
Instead, the Packers drafted Myers in the second round out of Ohio State, and there were times this summer when it felt like the Packers were doing whatever they could to find a replacement for Patrick. Not only did he not get to compete with Myers at center, but he was the only returning starter on offense who had to play in the preseason, while the rest of them were deemed too valuable to risk in exhibition games.
Unhappy with the line after the first preseason game, the coaches inserted rookie fourth-round pick Royce Newman at the right guard spot where Patrick had spent most of camp, creating a four-way competition for the two guard jobs.
And while Patrick staved off second-year lineman Jon Runyan at the end of camp, Patrick suffered a concussion on the final play of the team’s season-opening loss to New Orleans and missed the following week’s win over Detroit, which Runyan started in his place. He’s held the job ever since, relegating Patrick to a backup role.
But two weeks ago, Myers sat out the Oct. 10 game at Cincinnati because of a finger injury he’d suffered in the opener, forcing Patrick into the lineup. Then, after Patrick returned to the bench, Myers injured his knee against the Bears after just four offensive snaps, and Patrick finished the game.
And, according to coach Matt LaFleur, Patrick wound up as the line’s highest-graded player after the coaches broke down the film on Monday — even though Patrick hadn’t gotten a single snap with the No. 1 offense in practice during the week.
“I thought he had an outstanding performance. He’s a guy that you can always count on … a guy that does everything right,” LaFleur said. “You know what you’re going to get with Lucas. You’re going to get a tough, gritty guy that’s going to give you everything he has on every single rep. And I think that kind of resonates with the other guys up front, and our entire offensive unit.”
It also resonates with Rodgers, who has been supportive of Patrick dating back to him earning a contract as an undrafted rookie free agent from Duke who took part in the 2016 post-draft rookie camp on a tryout basis.
Five years later, only Rodgers, kicker Mason Crosby, left tackle David Bakhtiari and wide receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams have been with the organization longer than Patrick, who was in the same rookie class as defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry.
“(There’s) a lot of value when you can plug a guy in who can play (all) three positions inside, both guards and the center,” Rodgers said. “The backup center spot has always been a guaranteed roster spot. It just has to be, because that role is so important. He’s a tough, physical, smart player who, when he’s riding with confidence, can be an elite player at center. I really feel like that.
“(I) love the kid. I tell him every single time he’s out there that I love going to battle with him because he’s the kind of a guy you know is going to have your back and you know is going to be in the right position at all time and doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing — and battle and scrap and claw and fight as hard as he can.
“There’s not a specific value you can put on that, because the role that he plays can be priceless at times.”
For his part, Patrick said he didn’t let the ups and downs of training camp or uncertainty about what his role would be get him down. While his competitive personality drove him, he also took lessons from that time that he’s applying now that he’s back in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.
“I just have a mentality that I won’t be outworked and I’m not going to let this opportunity go by without maximizing it,” said Patrick, who enters Sunday having played 176 of the Packers’ offensive snaps (46.3%). “That camp, I learned a lot about myself and resiliency and being a good teammate. Because at the end of the day, if our best five are out there and that’s not myself, then my new role is to get those best five ready to go by challenging them, or even challenging our defense on scout team.”
“There’s always an impact you can have, on a win or a loss, even if you’re not on the field on gameday.”
After seeing him practice on a limited basis Friday, the Packers listed outside linebacker Preston Smith as questionable with an oblique injuryhe suffered at Chicago and are hoping he can play against Washington, which would allow him to keep his streak of 102 consecutive games played alive — and do so against his former team, having played the first 64 of those games in Washington. “As hard as it is, you try not to let that factor into any decision that you make. Certainly, he’s an important part of this football team and you want him there for the long haul, so you never want to put a guy out there and put him in greater jeopardy to do more harm,” LaFleur said of the streak. “(But) you always feel confident that you can count on P and he’ll be available. He’s done that throughout his entire career, obviously.” … Cornerback Kevin King (shoulder) and safety Darnell Savage (concussion) are also questionable. King missed last week’s win over the Bears with his injury, while LaFleur said Savage remains in the concussion protocol and has yet to be fully cleared. That clearance could come Saturday, however. … Backup tackle Dennis Kelly (back) and Myers were officially ruled out. … For Washington, four players were ruled out, including wide receivers Curtis Samuel (groin) and Cam Sims (hamstring).
Photos: Packers' 2021 season in pictures
Check out photo galleries from every game of 2021 from the preseason through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.
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