In a few months, Graham Harrell will get his long-awaited chance to become a “student” in Mike McCarthy’s quarterback school.
Through no fault of his own, Harrell hasn’t had that opportunity in his two seasons with the Packers. He was originally signed late in May of 2010, after QB school was mostly done and the offseason program had moved on to OTAs. Then last year, there was no offseason program at all due to the lockout.
So while Harrell, who has spent most of his two years on the practice squad, has shown enough promise to earn stints on the active roster at the end of each season, this offseason will be a major opportunity to grow.
“That will be a big step in his development,” said Quarterbacks Coach Tom Clements, who runs the QB school here that McCarthy originally devised in the 1990s in Kansas City and took with him to New Orleans and Green Bay. “That’s a big time of year for quarterbacks, especially young quarterbacks, because you can study the offense and dissect it from square one.
“Once you have a broad foundation within the offense, you can understand how things fit together, and when you have to make adjustments or changes, it’s easier to understand why.”
Quarterback school combines both the intensive study of the offense with a refinement of fundamentals using QB-specific drills. Its track record in Green Bay speaks for itself.
Upon McCarthy’s arrival here in 2006, Aaron Rodgers went through QB school three consecutive springs before taking over as the starter, and Rodgers has now won a Super Bowl and probably a league MVP award.
Matt Flynn got two years of the comprehensive training (2009-10) before last year’s lockout, and with two impressive NFL starts on his resume, he’s a candidate to get a lucrative contract in free agency to compete for a starting job elsewhere in 2012.
“They’re getting a smart guy, a competitive guy and a talented guy, if that happens,” Clements said of Flynn’s potential future team. “I understand the situation Matt is in. I told him selfishly I’d like to see him back here, but he has to do what he has to do. I know he wants to play, other than be a backup. I’m sure if opportunities arise, he’ll pursue them. He’s an excellent player.”
Which brings this back to Harrell, who will have a chance through QB school, training camp and the preseason to become Rodgers’ top backup, if Flynn does leave. The Packers almost certainly will bring in another quarterback or two to compete, as well.
“This offseason is all about learning and developing,” said Harrell, who is “absolutely” looking forward to his first QB school. “That’s how any offseason is. I need to continue to improve and hopefully I can do that. If you do that, the rest will take care of itself.”
Thus far, Clements said Harrell has made the biggest strides with his drop-back mechanics. As a record-setting passer in Texas Tech’s spread offense, Harrell operated almost exclusively out of the shotgun and has had to learn better how to work from under center.
Quarterback school should help perfect that and teach much more to a player Clements says simply has “a knack for the passing game.”
“He’s the type of guy, if you just stand around and watch him throw or play catch, he might not jump out at you, but when he gets in drills, he knows where to go with the ball, the ball gets there, and it’s usually to the right guy,” Clements said. “That’s his strong suit, and hopefully he will continue to develop that and become more familiar with our offense.”