GREEN BAY – This is fun for Brett Hundley.
That’s the word the Packers’ backup quarterback has used more than once to describe being the No. 1 guy for a week.
He’s getting a kick out of it, with Aaron Rodgers among the 15 veterans excused from the offseason-concluding minicamp. And even though it’s just three practices in helmets and shorts, it’s an opportunity for Hundley to continue proving himself to the first-string players still around.
“It’s more that my teammates know that, hey, if I’m ever in a game, they can look at me and say, ‘All right, we’ll be good,’” Hundley said. “It’s the trust that you get when you’re in the huddle with the first group that they’re not shaking or worried, or (saying) ‘All right, we may have to go a little slower.’ No, we’re moving.”
Hundley showed that command in Tuesday’s workout with a number of on-target throws in 11-on-11 work. A few were dropped, most notably a deep ball to Jeff Janis that cornerback Damarious Randall said he “baited” Hundley into throwing and then couldn’t catch up to, figuratively tipping his cap to the young QB.
He wasn’t as consistently sharp on Wednesday, his birthday, but he did make a clutch, fourth-down TD pass of around 30 yards to Jared Abbrederis to complete a successful two-minute drill.
During other spring practices open to the media, Hundley has challenged himself at times to make tougher throws he might have shied away from last year.
“You can’t buy these reps for a quarterback,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday. “It’s extremely important from a leadership standpoint.”
As far as his physical tools, the fifth-round draft pick from UCLA has made the most improvement in his footwork. That’s been a key element to his offseason work with quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt in McCarthy’s so-called QB school.
Footwork in a West Coast offensive system is more than just learning the different drop depths. It’s also about the quarterback timing his footwork with the primary routes being run on a given play, so the ball is thrown in rhythm. It can take a while to master, but Hundley is well on his way.
“Those are things he’s improved so much since he first got here,” Van Pelt said. “He’s night and day compared to where he was. He’s starting to look like Aaron dropping with his footwork in the pocket.”
He also resembled Rodgers on Tuesday in drawing the defense offside with a hard snap count and then running a free play. Hundley said he didn’t want to complicate things as a rookie by varying snap counts while he was just trying to process the play call and the defensive look.
This year, while he’s still had some rough, rookie-like moments with the defense getting the upper hand, he’s incorporating more of those subtle parts to QB play as his knowledge of the offense grows more comprehensive.
“There’s always those days that aren’t the greatest, but I’ve felt this offseason has been a steady incline,” he said.
“Now it’s really about learning the details of the plays, why we’re running things, why we’re going to check to this versus that. Protection adjustments, run adjustments, all that stuff.”
Hundley’s growth should make him the must-see guy come August. Last summer, his preseason numbers were out of this world (45-of-65, seven TDs, one INT, 129.6 rating), proving “the game’s not too big for him,” according to Van Pelt, not that he was surprised given Hundley’s extensive game experience at UCLA.
It was a month of impressive work that convinced the Packers they could let Scott Tolzien leave in free agency and make Hundley the No. 2.
This year, a fifth preseason game on the schedule gives Hundley an additional development opportunity. He will be hard-pressed to improve statistically on last summer, but as competitive as he is in practice – “We’re trying to torch the defense, every single play,” he said – he won’t mind having a high standard to live up to.
“I’m happy. Five preseason games, it’s a lot when you add on the season and playoffs, but to me, I’m ready,” Hundley said. “I’m trying to play them all. More reps. I’ll be happy when I get out there and get to show what I can do some more.”
Perhaps he’ll even get some snaps with the first unit in the preseason, and/or against the opposing No. 1 defense, but that’s a wait-and-see proposition for now.
If it happens, this is certain: Hundley will take charge, and he’ll have fun doing so.
“When he’s in the huddle, he’s in command,” Van Pelt said. “That’s a natural leader at the quarterback position. You don’t see a bunch of, ‘Hey, what was the play, coach?’ Or getting up to the line in the wrong formations.
“He handles himself well, and it’s through preparation. He’s tracking the right way.”
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