Maybe it's a sign of the times that major college football has become so big, so popular, played on such a large stage in front of sold-out stadiums and nationally-televised audiences, the step up to pro football is no longer as big as it once was.
When Green Bay Packers rookie tight end Richard Rodgers—on the doorstep of making his first NFL regular-season start on Thursday—was asked if he was nervous, he responded with a steely and succinct, "No."
Based upon the Packers' four preseason games, of which Rodgers started all four, the third round draft choice from the University of California figures to do the same in the Packers' high-profile season-opener as part the annual NFL Kickoff game in Seattle.
"I don't think there's that much pressure," said Rodgers. "I have a great group of guys around me that will help me. The offensive line is great at communicating and Aaron (Rodgers) is great at communicating and just putting us in the right position to succeed. Me and Corey (Linsley) have a tall task ahead of us, so we're just going to do our best, and we have the support of everyone on the team."
Maybe the fact that Richard Rodgers' father is an assistant coach in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers has had an influence on his son, already used to a lifetime around the game of football played at its highest level.
Whatever the reason for Rodgers' relaxed demeanor, he's about to face one of the most-raucous environments in professional football in front of a crowd ready to celebrate last year's Super Bowl championship at a party thrown by the NFL.
Richard Rodgers counts games at Oregon's Autzen Stadium and Washington's Husky Stadium as the loudest he's experienced as a veteran of Pac-12 football, but on Thursday he'll be thrown to the wolves at CenturyLink Field in Seattle against the best defense in the NFL, or at least it was in 2013.
"I'm just excited to play in a game," said Rodgers. "We haven't played in a real game yet. This is going to be my first game, so I'm excited, and I'm sure that Aaron and everyone else is just excited to get out there and really put together everything that we've been working on."
If Richard Rodgers truly is naïve to the situation he's stepping into, maybe Aaron Rodgers will be the voice of reason.
The quarterback of the Packers will be surrounded by a supporting cast including two rookies in the starting lineup and a few more as role players.
"I like it, but some of those guys are untested, though," said Aaron Rodgers. "This will be a good environment to see what kind of players they are, how they deal with adversity, how they deal with a difficult place to play. You have Richard Rodgers and Davante (Adams) and Jeff Janis and Corey all playing their first real meaningful game in a tough environment. So for them, this is as good a test I think you could ask for.
"It's obviously great for all of us to see where we stack up against the reigning champions in Week 1. But as a young player, to go into this kind of hostile environment, it's going to say a lot about the kind of players they are and the potential that they have."
Perhaps the Packers' scouting and personnel department knew what they were looking for all along, drafting players with nerves of titanium that they knew wouldn't shy away from the pressures of a high-stakes game.
Second-round selection Davante Adams insists he's ready for the challenge.
"It's a big deal, but I'm not the type of guy that freezes up," said Adams. "I like to rise to the occasion, especially a game like this. It's the first game of the season, and it's going to be a huge deal. So right now I'm making sure I'm executing my special jobs and doing what I got to do there, and whatever snaps I get in the game, just take it in."
While Richard Rodgers and Davante Adams will be rotated in and out of the game, one rookie expected to be on the field from the first snap to final whistle is Linsley.
After previous starter J.C. Tretter was injured in the Packers' third preseason game, the Packers passed on getting Linsley and Aaron Rodgers playing time together in the exhibition finale, choosing not to expose their quarterback to injury.
There are no more dress reheasals before Thursday's all-important season-opener, so the Packers will have to rely strictly upon the practice time the two have received.
Like a game of hide and seek for the Packers rookies, it's going to be "Ready or not, here I come."
"It's great competition," said Adams. "I love the fact that we get to play against a group that has a lot of hype, but I'm the type of guy, it doesn't matter. I'm going to come out there and work regardless, whoever it is. I'm going to do my thing and just play as hard as I can to help my team win."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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