Rodgers has much respect for 49ers’ Smith

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The last time Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers met with the local media, it ended very quickly after fullback John Kuhn shoved a towel full of shaving cream into the NFL MVP’s face.

This week went much more smoothly, with Rodgers and his teammates now just four days away from Green Bay’s first game of the regular season Sunday at home against the San Francisco 49ers.

Five question-and-answer highlights:

1. Is your starting offensive line as strong as ever?

RODGERS: The starting five is great. I think we’ve got a lot of experience, a lot of guys who played a lot of time, obviously not (all) together. But Josh (Sitton) and T.J. (Lang) have a lot of starts now, Bryan (Bulaga) obviously has been a part of a lot of starts. Jeff (Saturday) brings experience to the line. Marshall (Newhouse) has kind of played all over but is settling into his starting role. Evan Dietrich-Smith as the sixth guy is a guy we have a lot of confidence in, at guard and center. He’s had, really, a great two years. I think he really made some strides last year in training camp, got in last year, played some good time for us and has just continued to improve.

2. You’re always linked with 49ers quarterback Alex Smith because of the 2005 draft, so what it’s like going head to head with him?

RODGERS: It’s great. It’s been fun to be friends with him at (age) 21 and now at 28, our eighth year together, both of us. It was fun for us to be able to connect with him at the American Century championship this summer, and we’ve talked over the offseason as well. He’s a great guy, and a guy who’s playing at a high level. To have that many pass attempts like he did last year, and then to take care of the football the way he did, didn’t get enough credit for the job that he did. That’s very difficult to do. And they gave him some weapons this year, and he’s going to be a big-time quarterback.

3. What are your thoughts on the replacement referees being a part of Week 1 of the regular season?

RODGERS: You know what? I think that it’s a tough job. The scrutiny that’s on them right now is probably more than it’s ever been on a regular referee — if you think about the coverage they’re getting from the segments on different television programs to the questions that are constantly being asked to players and coaches about their job. The regular refs really haven’t had to deal with something like this. That being said, I was very impressed with the crew last week (in the preseason finale). I thought they understood the game management. They weren’t trying to do too much, as far as penalty throwing. But they were not allowing the game to be too big for them. And I thought they did an excellent job reffing that game. Hopefully it’s not hit or miss, as it’s kind of been in the preseason where there’s been crews that haven’t thrown a ton of flags and there’s been crews that have maybe done a little bit too much of that. But they’ve had now four weeks to get ready for this. I think, as a player, your main hope is that they’re not a game-deciding play that’s impacted by a call or no call.

4. Is there an excitement level for this new season to finally begin?

RODGERS: It’s fun. These games count now. It’s a challenge. It’s exciting to have a new team to do this with. I was just checking the roster today, and it’s crazy to think that in 2005 when I was drafted, only Donald Driver is still left from that team. Not a lot of guys you can go to with some of the inside jokes from that year and some of the funny stories that happened. Whoever was here, you know kind of what that team was all about and the ups and downs we had that year. But it’s fun to be an older player now on the team and have that perspective and to realize it’s all about winning championships and trying to get your team looking the right way as a leader. It’s a great challenge.

5. How tough is the 49ers defense, especially with all 11 starters from last year returning?

RODGERS: Yeah, it is rare in this free-agent era. But they’re a great defense. They’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of Pro Bowl players, a lot of guys that could be Pro Bowl players. Justin Smith is kind of the guy that makes it go at times. He’s a blue-collar guy, doesn’t always get the stats, but everybody knows how important he is to that team. He’s one of the very best players in the NFL, regardless of position. You surround him with a lot of experience, some youth that’s playing well, and the guys on the back end are playing well also.

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