Graham Harrell might be in the process of breaking a tradition and becoming the answer to a trivia question.
Which of the five Texas Tech quarterbacks under Mike Leach that threw for at least 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in a season went on to a productive NFL career?
Harrell has a chance to be the answer. Harrell has a chance to become the first of those five Texas Tech quarterbacks since Kliff Kingsbury in 2005 to complete a pass in an NFL game, which is exactly how many passes Kingsbury completed in his entire NFL career. All of the others completed fewer than one.
Harrell, the ultimate system quarterback in Leach’s throw-it-short, throw-it-every-play offense is living and thriving in the NFL in the Packers’ high-tech pass-offense.
Hey, he wasn’t supposed to have enough arm strength to play in the NFL, right?
“I think a lot of that comes with the stereotype of our offense at Texas Tech. We’re throwing dinks and dunks,” Harrell said. “The only way to break that trend is to make big throws and big plays.”
Harrell was on top of his game last Friday in the Packers’ 28-20 win over the Cardinals. He completed seven of nine passes for 81 yards, a touchdown and a 141.2 passer rating in a quarter of action.
His play in this training camp has been so solid, so steady and promising that some think he could replace Matt Flynn as Aaron Rodgers’ understudy, should Flynn leave the Packers in free agency; he’s in the final year of his contract.
“Maybe one day I’ll get my shot to be a starter,” he added.
“We’re very happy with Graham. He came late to us in the spring of last year. We liked what we saw and he did well in camp. He’s more comfortable in the system, he knows it better and he’s performing better,” Packers Quarterbacks Coach Tom Clements said.
Once upon a time, when Clements was making the move from college to professional football, NFL quarterbacks had to be big, strong-armed guys that had the arm strength to take deep drops and throw the ball downfield. That’s not Harrell’s game but that’s not the game today, either.
“He can make the throws that are required in this offense. He’s accurate and he’s at his best in game settings. He knows where to go with the ball,” Clements said in offering a description of not only Harrell but of contemporary quarterbacks in general.
There are, of course, exceptions. Rodgers is a quarterback that could play in any era.
“Aaron is the complete package. He can sit in the pocket, he can make all of the throws, he’s accurate and he can make things happen (outside the pocket),” Clements said.
Harrell is a distributor of the ball, which is good enough in today’s game.
“He’ll get you a completion and usually to the right guy,” Clements said.
Last year, the Packers started the season with only two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster; Harrell was on the team’s practice squad. Do the Packers’ dare try that, again, or has Harrell’s exposure in the preseason made him too valuable a commodity to avoid being signed off the practice squad by another team?
“There’s no doubt this is a great spot. The way they train a quarterback and prepare a quarterback can set you up for success,” Harrell said.
McCarthy said he hopes to get Harrell some playing time on Friday in Indianapolis. “He’ll get a whole lot of reps against Kansas City,” McCarthy added.
The word may start to get out that Harrell is more than just a system quarterback.