Rodgers practices with Packers, continues concussion recovery

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was cleared by doctors and returned to practice with the Green Bay Packers on Thursday. Assuming he doesn't have a setback in his recovery from a concussion, he is optimistic that he will start Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.

Rodgers practiced on a limited basis Thursday, taking the majority of snaps during the portion of practice that was open to the media.

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Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers completed all the steps in the NFL's protocol to return to the field after a head injury, but the team will monitor his progress before naming him the starter against the Dolphins.

"I've gone through the process that the NFL requires," Rodgers said. "I've been cleared by our doctors, by an outside source. And I think it's just a matter of how I feel tomorrow. And I'm very optimistic."

Rodgers sustained a concussion during Sunday's overtime loss at Washington, but it's not clear -- even to the quarterback -- when he began experiencing the symptoms of a head injury.

McCarthy said Monday that Rodgers' concussion came on a helmet-to-helmet hit on the Packers' final offensive play of the game. Rodgers said that hit "definitely" made him feel worse and forced him out of the game, but he acknowledged that he wasn't feeling "completely normal" even earlier.

"Having never had a concussion before, it was definitely a learning process to understand how my body feels," Rodgers said. "Because obviously I've been dinged in the head a number of times, everything from in high school seeing the stars and stuff, to the different shots you take along the way. I think it was just a great learning process to understand how my body reacts to different situations."

According to NFL guidelines for head injuries, Rodgers must be symptom-free and cleared by a team doctor and independent neurological consultant before he can play again.

"The protocol as far as all the testing and so forth from the medical staff and the off-campus doctor has been completed," McCarthy said. "But it's like anything. There may be potentially a setback or something. That's why we limited him today at practice."

Rodgers said he didn't regret reporting the injury.

"With any other injury, there's definitely that temptation to be your own evaluator and to be very optimistic," Rodgers said. "But when it comes to your head, I think you can't be too careful. That's something I definitely thought about on Sunday, and something from here on that's going to be on my mind.

"Head injuries are different than the standard extremity injury, because you're talking about the rest of your life and being able to function and have normal brain activity is more important than risking having a setback because you come back too early."

For all his accomplishments in two-plus years as an NFL starting quarterback, Rodgers is perhaps most proud of the fact that he hasn't missed a game.

While he'll have to play a lot longer to match the consecutive-starts streak of his predecessor in Green Bay, Brett Favre, Rodgers clearly doesn't want to sit out Sunday. That said, Rodgers understands that pushing himself to return quickly from a head injury wouldn't be the same as toughing out a painful shoulder injury, as he did in 2008.

"When I started to really look into more information about this, that's when the severity of this injury hit me," Rodgers said. "And I realized, 'You know what, I'd love to be out there on Sunday for my guys, but I have to get cleared. And this has to be a process where I'm completely honest with our medical staff and they're honest with their assessment of how they feel I'm reacting and improving or not improving.'"

As the Packers' representative to the NFL Players Association, Rodgers said the treatment of head injuries for current and former players is a critical issue that deserves more attention.

"That's something that I'm going to have to do a little more research on," Rodgers said. "But I think it's important that we at some point address the issue that we have with some of the former players and their injuries."

Donald Lee, who sustained a chest injury early in last Sunday's game and left for good after catching a touchdown pass, also practiced Thursday, and McCarthy said he was optimistic the tight end would play against the Dolphins.

Two players who practiced Wednesday didn't participate Thursday -- defensive lineman Mike Neal and linebacker Brandon Chillar. Linebacker Clay Matthews and right tackle Mark Tauscher also didn't practice.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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