Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and Saints quarterback Drew Brees… (Alex Brandon / Associated…)
Reporting from Green Bay -- The NFL opener between New Orleans and Green Bay on Thursday pits not only the past two Super Bowl champions but also two elite quarterbacks — the Saints' Drew Brees and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers — who took vastly different approaches to this unusual off-season.
Whereas Brees staged six weeks of player-run workouts at Tulane University — even dipping into his own pocket to help pay for trainers, insurance and accommodations for teammates who needed them — Rodgers opted for a no-huddle offense.
Which is to say the Packers didn't stage one of those camps at all.
"I can promise you, anything that's going on in those workouts, that's not winning games on Sunday," Rodgers said in July in an interview at the American Century golf tournament at Lake Tahoe. "That's going to help a team chemistry maybe, but that's not winning games on Sunday."
Brees begs to differ.
"Other teams may not have had an off-season, but in my mind we had an off-season," the New Orleans quarterback said. "Because we were together. Guys left that program in shape, focused, football-ready, and that made me feel good about where we would be coming into camp."
So in a sense, was the lockout actually an advantage for the Saints?
"Only time will tell," Brees said. "But the way we approached it, yes. That was the point. What we did, I hoped would prepare us to be ahead of everyone else."
There's no quibbling with the way both Rodgers and Brees have rocketed into the stratosphere of the league's best quarterbacks and put themselves on a Canton trajectory.
Rodgers threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns against Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV, earning most-valuable-player honors for that game, and putting the finishing touches on an up-from-the-rubble season for a Packers team that had 15 players on injured reserve.
Brees, the Saints' all-time leader in passing yardage, threw for more than 4,000 yards last season for the fifth consecutive year. He became the first New Orleans player to reach a third Pro Bowl in a row since receiver Joe Horn in 2002.
No current player was more active than Brees in the bitter labor dispute between NFL owners and players. He was a constant throughout the negotiations, and his hard-line stance during the lockout earned him as many detractors as fans.
It's no surprise, then, that Brees' focus was divided for most of the spring. That didn't stop him from organizing the workouts, however, something he said he'd been planning even before the playoffs ended. He knew a lockout was a very real possibility, and he wanted to get ahead of the wave.
"I think it absolutely put us ahead of where we otherwise would have been," he said. "I can't imagine our rookies coming in here having zero knowledge of our offense or defense, and then having to learn that in a 15-day period prior to them playing their first game. That would have been crazy.
"So the fact we were able to get that installation in, guys came in well ahead of where they would have been."
Rodgers, who spent his time during the off-season in Chico and San Diego, said he did just about as much throwing this spring as he would do in a typical year.
"I know my body now," he said. "This will be my seventh year, I understand what I need to do to get ready to play."
As for why the Packers skipped the player-run workouts so many teams organized, he said the main problem was logistics.
"I think the biggest issue we have in Green Bay is nobody lives there," he said. "I was talking to [Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo] and they have 80% of the guys living in Dallas. It's easy to get guys together when that's the case. But when you have guys all over the coast, South, North, it's a little bit more difficult."
What the opener could turn out to be — especially if one team is dramatically ahead on offense than the other — is an early referendum on the importance of those workouts.
Then again, the Packers did get their share of extra football this year.
Four quarters in northern Texas they won't soon forget.