Over the next couple of weeks, packers.com will be taking a look at the Packers’ roster, position by position. The first installment focuses on the quarterbacks.
GREEN BAY—The Packers hadn’t needed more than two starting quarterbacks to get through a season for more than two decades until it required four to navigate a topsy-turvy 2013.
It was practically an act of Murphy’s Law that the year the Packers entered the season the least prepared at backup quarterback would be the year the position’s depth would be tested more than ever.
The hope, of course, is that it won’t be tested like that again in 2014. Aaron Rodgers is still in his prime, under contract long term and possibly coming back eager as ever after a broken collarbone cost him half of last season.
With the strongest running game he’s ever had behind him, Rodgers threw for 2,536 yards in eight games plus one series, meaning he might have approached his first 5,000-yard season or topped his franchise-record 4,643 yards from 2011 had he stayed healthy.
The first major injury of Rodgers’ career, though, underscored his immeasurable value to the team as a whole and the premium placed on quarterback play for the Packers to succeed. So what happened in 2013 – when three potential backups to Rodgers were jettisoned at the end of training camp, leaving the Packers to start over at the position – can’t happen again.
It wasn’t anyone’s fault that the first backup, Seneca Wallace, got hurt one week after Rodgers broke his collarbone, but signing a 33-year-old QB in Week 1 who hadn’t played in a regular-season game in more than a year carried an inherent injury risk that bit the Packers big-time.
Last season ended with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien behind Rodgers, but whether next season begins that way will depend mostly on Flynn.
A pending free agent, Flynn’s value on the market is suspect to say the least. Did he entice another team to give him a chance to start after rallying the Packers to two wins and a tie in come-from-behind fashion, or will his previous three unproductive stops in Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo make others believe Flynn’s potential success is limited to Mike McCarthy’s offensive system?
If Flynn does return to Green Bay, expect a full-on offseason competition for the No. 2 job with Tolzien, a prospect still developing who gained multiple preseasons’ worth of experience in his three-quarter relief appearance in place of Wallace and two subsequent starts.
Tolzien wasn’t able to post any victories, but he showed poise in the pocket and the ability to hit the deep shot. The offense wasn’t lacking for yardage with Tolzien at the controls, but it didn’t score enough points due to failures in the red zone and Tolzien’s five interceptions.
Those shortcomings weren’t all that unexpected for a quarterback getting his first career regular-season action, and with a playbook he was handed just a week before the opener.
Limiting interceptions has been a coaching strength of McCarthy’s and offensive coordinator Tom Clements’ dating back to Brett Favre, so there’s no reason to believe Tolzien won’t improve in that area. He gave the coaching staff -- which will have a new QB coach following the departure of Ben McAdoo to be offensive coordinator of the New York Giants -- plenty of good work to build on.
The bottom line is the Packers liked what they saw from the former Rose Bowl starter for the University of Wisconsin, and 2014 could determine whether he’s a potential long-term backup for Rodgers, who was backed up by Flynn for his first four years as the offense’s centerpiece (2008-11).
Whether Tolzien is competing for that job with Flynn and/or a rookie draft pick will be determined in the coming months. Since selecting Flynn in the seventh round in 2008, General Manager Ted Thompson has drafted only one quarterback (B.J. Coleman in the seventh round in 2012) in the last five drafts.
That’s a drought that could end if the right prospect is available in the right draft slot, but again, that probably depends on what happens with Flynn.