Not mandatory this year: 15 Packers vets excused from camp

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) A familiar face was missing in the gym when quarterback Brett Hundley went for a workout.

It was a little odd not having Aaron Rodgers around while most of the rest of the Green Bay Packers were toiling away at minicamp.

He's no high-profile holdout - Rodgers has been excused, along with 14 other Packers veterans, from minicamp this week. It is part of coach Mike McCarthy's plan to give some of the team's key older players some extra rest with a longer-than-usual training camp coming up in July.

''Yeah, I felt really lonely. Usually (Rodgers and I) will work out together, and I didn't have my guy right there next to me. So, pretty lonely,'' Hundley said, tongue-in-cheek.

Coaches will harp on the work that the team has already gone through earlier in the offseason program, so minicamp is ''obviously tailored toward our younger players,'' McCarthy said Tuesday.

It means the next few days will be especially important to guys like Hundley, a second-year player expected to back up Rodgers this season.

Except in minicamp, he's running the No. 1 offense, or at least what's left of it when accounting for the excused absences of other veterans like receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

''Absolutely. Now he's operating like he's the guy. So it's a big step for him to go out and show us and the team that there (are) no bumps in the road because Aaron's not here,'' quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said.

Rodgers is part of a select group allowed to get a head start on the five-week break before training camp begins in late July. McCarthy didn't go down the list, though it appeared the cutoff was players entering at least their sixth year in the league.

Training camp will start a little earlier than usual this year because the Packers will play an extra preseason game, the Hall of Fame Game against the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 7.

''So really, if you look at the veterans' workload as far as the nine-week offseason program, training camp ... they'll actually still have the same amount of work or a little more than they would in a normal training camp,'' McCarthy said.

Having an extra preseason game also amounts to an extra chance for younger players to get experience outside of preseason camp.

''That's really the baseline of the decision, and I thought it definitely was a win-win for everybody,'' McCarthy said.

While veterans like Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews are getting a break, other Packers are playing catch-up.

Rookies like Kenny Clark, who missed most of the offseason program after rookie minicamp in early May, have returned to Lambeau Field for good. Clark, a first-round draft pick out of UCLA, wasn't eligible to join the Packers until after his school's academic year had officially ended.

For those rookies, that meant working out on their own, and staying in touch with coaches through videoconferencing.

Clark will be counted on to help fill the void left by the departure of veteran tackle B.J. Raji, who is stepping away from the game for at least a year.

''It will be really important for them to feel the stress and the speed of the three days of practice. They'll get everything that they need,'' McCarthy said about the returning rookies.

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