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Heir day: Rodgers finally looking like worthy successor to Favre

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Two years of watching Aaron Rodgers hold clipboards and mop up a few ugly losses were enough to convince Green Bay Packers fans he wasn't worthy of replacing an icon.

What they weren't familiar with is the progress his coaches and teammates were seeing in practice every day.

Between his steady improvement there and his performance in the Packers' first preseason game, the personable California kid with the offbeat sense of humor is beginning to look like he is qualified to succeed Brett Favre.

Getting there, Rodgers' insists, shouldn't be a shock to anyone.

"I felt like I've always been an intelligent player, I've had a big upside, and I've made plays in practice and the preseason the last two years," Rodgers said. "All this stuff that maybe people are surprised that I'm playing well, I don't even read the papers, I don't get into that stuff. All that will take care of itself."

Backup wide receiver Ruvell Martin, one of Rodgers' closest friends on the team, said the quarterback's maturity has been unfolding over the past three years.

"To me, it's not like, 'wow,"' Martin said. "I've seen this from him for a while now, and he's done a great job. I don't think it's an all-of-a-sudden thing. I think he's been coming along for a while now."

Winning over Favre, who made it notoriously clear after the Packers took Rodgers with the 24th overall pick in the 2005 draft that the rookie would be on his own to learn the game, seems to be a bonus.

Today Favre is saying that he and Rodgers get along "great," and that Rodgers has "all the tools." Favre said the only question mark remaining is how Rodgers will respond when he finally gets to play consistently.

"I assume when that time comes, he'll be fine," Favre said. "And he's done everything they expected him to do. And I know it's difficult, especially when you're drafted in the first round, here you are still biding your time. I know that's difficult, but he's handled it well. He's said all the right things. I know he wants to play. I would, too. But he's done nothing but get better each and every time he's played."

That hasn't been very often. Standing in the shadow of the NFL's quarterbacking ironman, Rodgers saw significant playing time in only two games in his first two seasons.

He looked overwhelmed as a rookie, and it didn't help that he was getting razzed instead of tutored by the three-time MVP. His only extensive playing time as a rookie came at the end of an ugly loss in Baltimore.

Rodgers was sent back to the bench last season when Favre decided not to retire after months of public deliberation. He didn't get another shot until Favre injured his elbow against New England -- but Rodgers didn't play well and broke his foot, providing fodder for critics used to their quarterback being all but impervious to injury.

Though he toughed it out to finish the game, his season was over. After allowing himself a few days to sulk, Rodgers spent the offseason rehabbing the injury and returned in better shape than before.

"I just worked real hard and didn't take it for granted, the opportunity to play the game I love," Rodgers said. "I think a lot of the work I put in, both physically and mentally, is starting to pay off."

Rodgers has been showing off his underrated scrambling ability and arm strength in practice, and upstaged Favre in the Packers' preseason victory at Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Granted, that performance -- 18-of-27 for 168 yards and a touchdown, with a 20-yard scramble -- came against the Steelers' second-string defense, but Rodgers was playing with the Packers' No. 2 offense.

"The thing about preseason that's kind of interesting is you're expected to do well," Rodgers said. "If you don't do well, everybody asks you why you didn't play well. If you do play well, people say, 'Oh, well, you moved the ball against the No. 2s.' So it's kind of a no-win situation. At the same time, I'm continuing to work hard and hopefully put together another good performance."

In the meantime, Rodgers is trying to make football as much fun as possible, often jumping in the air to exchange a playful shoulder-bump with a teammate after a big play in practice, or for no apparent reason at all.

Rodgers showed off his goofball side when he grew a campy 70s-style mustache for a preseason game last year. He called it "a tribute to all the great people in history that had mustaches -- guys like Tom Selleck and Chuck Norris and Jesus and Ron Burgundy."

Another Rodgers personality quirk: He's obsessive about remembering birthdays.

"He had just got a new phone, and I remember him telling me the only thing he didn't like about it was it didn't have an alarm to go off when people's birthdays were so he could say happy birthday to them," Martin said. "That's just the kind of guy he is, very personable. Speaks well of everybody. And he does a great job on the field, too."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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