The following is the first installment in a series of stories that’ll examine the Packers’ roster position by position. The series begins with the quarterbacks.
GREEN BAY—What a difference a year makes.
Last year at this time, the Packers were planning to have either Graham Harrell or B.J. Coleman back up Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
Those plans were ultimately scrapped. In what became an increasingly difficult search for Rodgers’ insurance policy, Vince Young was signed prior to the first preseason game and eventually released after a brief trial, while Harrell and Coleman also were let go.
The Packers signed Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien in Week 1, and they immediately began their crash course in Mike McCarthy’s offense. As luck would have it, though, the year the Packers were the least prepared at backup quarterback became the year they needed one the most, as Rodgers broke his collarbone on the first series in Week 9 and missed the rest of that game plus the next seven.
Bringing back Matt Flynn in mid-November probably saved the season, as the veteran and 2008 seventh-round draft pick rallied the Packers to two wins and a tie before Rodgers returned for the Week 17 winner-takes-the-NFC-North finale in Chicago.
The entire ordeal, which included a winless month without Rodgers, taught the Packers a lesson they won’t soon forget: The backup quarterback position cannot be shortchanged, either in terms of personnel or preparation.
That said, the Packers are beginning 2014 at quarterback in essentially the same place they left off, with the veteran Flynn and the developing Tolzien behind Rodgers, and the two could stage a rather intriguing battle for the No. 2 spot in the preseason. Undrafted rookie Chase Rettig of Boston College is the latest addition to the mix.
Flynn’s knowledge of McCarthy’s offense is one of his best assets, allowing him to step in just 12 days after he arrived in Green Bay last season to bring the Packers back from 16 points down in the fourth quarter against the Vikings to an eventual overtime stalemate. His grit and cool under pressure certainly helped, too, in second-half comebacks against Atlanta and Dallas in December.
Tolzien has finally had a chance to catch up in the playbook, spending his first offseason in Green Bay, while honing his fundamentals under the tutelage of McCarthy, Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements and Quarterbacks Coach Alex Van Pelt.
Tolzien has an NFL arm, which he showed in completing a handful of deep balls at MetLife Stadium against the Giants last season in his first NFL start. The occasional bad decision or read cost Tolzien, though, as he threw three interceptions in that game following two costly picks against the Eagles the previous week.
Given Flynn’s experience and Rettig’s lack of it, it’s likely Tolzien will take the lion’s share of the snaps in the preseason games. He’ll be out to show consistency and ball security, two qualities that eluded him last November.
How that competition between Flynn and Tolzien shakes out will likely determine whether the Packers keep two or three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster. Rettig will be looking for his chance, too, even if it’s just to land a practice-squad spot. As expected, his reps were very limited in OTAs, though he turned in a promising final minicamp workout when Rodgers and Flynn took the day off.
As for Rodgers, he set the bar at MVP level in 2011, followed up with a highly productive 2012 and then appeared on his way to a statistical nirvana when Chicago’s Shea McClellin broke his collarbone with a sack last Nov. 4.
In playing eight games plus one series, Rodgers threw for more than 2,500 yards and completed nearly 200 passes in 2013. A 400-completion, 5,000-yard season – neither of which has been achieved in Packers history – wasn’t out of the question.
That the Packers are now in better shape behind Rodgers at the quarterback position is without question, either.