GREEN BAY – Through the Packers’ first two preseason games, reserve quarterbacks Brett Hundley and Matt Blanchard have faced third- and fourth-string defenders.
“That could change this week,” Aaron Rodgers said. “They could get a lot of opportunities against some ones and twos out there. That’s real football. It’s exciting for them.”
With three starting offensive linemen missing practice this week due to injuries, and with Rodgers declaring himself ready for Week 1, even if he doesn’t take another preseason game snap, the league MVP could play very little, if at all, against the Eagles on Saturday night.
Add in No. 2 QB Scott Tolzien’s absence this week due to a concussion, and Green Bay’s preseason home opener could turn into a potential showcase, and showdown, involving Hundley and Blanchard.
Not only could Saturday night determine who is this team’s third-best QB, it could also determine whether that third QB will be kept on the active roster at final cutdown time.
“It’s a great challenge for him and Matt,” said QB and receivers coach Alex Van Pelt, who also has no concerns about Rodgers’ readiness for the regular season.
“That’s a good defense. They do a lot. With the quarterbacks especially, we have to be on our toes, as far as picking up pressures and understanding coverages and what they’re trying to do, because they do a lot.”
Hundley has played far more than Blanchard in the preseason so far, with predictably uneven results for a rookie. The fifth-round pick from UCLA engineered a TD drive in New England, but he failed to generate a first down in four possessions in Pittsburgh, getting flagged for a damaging intentional grounding penalty on his last drive.
“We know we’re going to get in there and have some fun and get a substantial amount of playing time,” Hundley said. “We’re looking forward to this opportunity, and we sort of can’t wait.
“There’s still a lot of growing to do, and that’s how I’m taking it.”
Blanchard, a Wisconsin-Whitewater alum who will have a lot of friends and family in attendance at Lambeau Field, played just one series late in each of the first two games. He helped drain the final 5:32 off the clock against the Patriots with a drive that reached the New England 5-yard line, and he was sacked on a fourth-and-1 by the Steelers.
“This is a unique deal with this third preseason game. Backups don’t normally get these types of reps,” said Blanchard, who has spent time previously in his pro career with Chicago and Carolina.
“For me personally, this is my fourth training camp. You really want to go against the best guys you can. If you’re a competitor at any level, you really want to face the best talent you have an opportunity to go against to really see where you’re at. We’re going to have that opportunity on Saturday night, and I’m just so excited.”
While putting together scoring drives against the Eagles’ top defenders would speak volumes of Hundley’s and Blanchard’s progress, the Packers’ coaching staff will be breaking down the big picture into smaller pieces.
Offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said the starting point for both QBs will be communication, and getting everyone on offense on the same page. Van Pelt added the timing of the passing game becomes that much more critical against front-line NFL defenses.
“The big thing for us with the quarterbacks is the footwork,” Van Pelt said. “Calming down the footwork and having timing with the routes. That’s an area of improvement.”
It’ll be up to the Packers’ young receivers to play their part and help out Hundley and Blanchard in that respect.
As the offense looks to solidify its receiver depth following Jordy Nelson’s season-ending injury, Saturday night will feature plenty of snaps for Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Myles White, among others.
Van Pelt often mentions consistency as the toughest challenge for any young receiver, and consistency translates to reliability. As the coaches review the practice and game films, they’re looking to see a level of performance they can count on.
“It’s basically stacking successes,” Van Pelt said. “Having a good practice and rolling that into two good practices, and then having a good week of preparation and taking it over to the game, and then stringing two games together.
“Then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘OK, he’s doing it right every time, being where he’s supposed to be, when he’s supposed to be.’ That’s what you look for.
“If you get the spikes where they flash one week and come back with six mental errors … we need the level of consistency in the receiver play.”
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