GREEN BAY – It’s a tired, worn-out saying that up-and-coming players can learn from established stars.
It’s absolutely true, however, in the case of quarterback Scott Tolzien, who earlier this week in practice showed he’s absorbing all he can from Aaron Rodgers.
Perhaps the league’s best at drawing the defense offside and then taking advantage of the free play, Rodgers on Monday watched his protégé win the two-minute drill in that very fashion.
Taking a no-risk shot downfield after a defensive lineman jumped early, Tolzien hit receiver Myles White for a 35-yard touchdown on fourth down.
“That’s exactly what you try to do. Whenever you’re behind a great player that’s obviously been very successful, you try to emulate him,” said Alex Van Pelt, coach for both the quarterbacks and receivers. “Part of that is knowing when to use your cadence to hopefully get that situation and be able to execute it.
“I hope he’s taking everything he can from Aaron. I’m sure he is.”
The preseason games this month will be a showcase for Tolzien’s growth and progress. He was solid last August, posting a passer rating of 100 or better in three of four preseason contests, but his coaches believe he’s even better now, noting his improved footwork and knowledge of the offense.
“He’s really come on,” Van Pelt said. “His arm is live, really accurate. He’s a great leader. He gets in the huddle, you know who’s in charge. It’s just a matter of putting it all together. I’m impressed with what he’s done and I look forward to seeing him in these preseason games.”
Tolzien will likely be the QB helping decide the battle for the No. 4 receiver spot behind the offense’s big three. Second-year pro Jeff Janis and rookie third-round draft pick Ty Montgomery are emerging as the top candidates early.
The transition for Janis from the Division II college ranks to the NFL has taken some time, but he’ll get the chance to show he’s ready.
“With Jeff, his size, speed and athleticism are the things that stand out. His strength,” Van Pelt said. “It’s just a matter of catching up with everybody as far as route-running and knowledge of the system. He did a great job in the spring. He just needs to continue that growth, because physically, he’s imposing out there.”
Janis caught two TD passes in the preseason last year, but they were his only two receptions. As with all young players, consistency is a significant hurdle to clear.
Montgomery is off to a strong start in that regard, showing up in practice nearly every day, which is particularly impressive given he missed all but the final days of OTAs/minicamp due to Stanford’s school calendar. Camp is just a week old, though.
“Is he ready yet? I’m not sure if we’d feel comfortable with him going in there and taking a lot of reps with Aaron yet,” Van Pelt said. “But you see the potential, you see the quickness, you see the hands, you see the run after catch, and you see the response to the way he answers questions in the room, and it’s all positive.”
Montgomery is also taking the first reps as kickoff returner, a position targeted for an upgrade after the Packers finished 31st in the league in kick return average in 2014.
Special teams coordinator Ron Zook likes the total package Montgomery brings on various special teams units, and he’s looking for the players he calls “bell cows” to form the core. But for Zook, there’s no doubting the value of the guy with the ball in his hands.
“The returner has a lot to do with your kickoff returns,” Zook said. “That’s the biggest phase we have to improve on.
“Ty’s a pretty good-sized guy that can run real well that’s very smart and is tough. If he’s not returning the ball, then he can block. He’s a guy that’s bought in and he’s willing to do anything he can do.”
On punt return, it sounds as though Zook is sold on third-year defensive back Micah Hyde, another potential core special teamer.
“I don’t think there’s any question. He’s returned three for touchdowns in two years, and I don’t think anybody else in the league has done that,” Zook said. “You’ve still got a guy that’s a great, great returner in Randall Cobb, too.
“I don’t know who Coach (McCarthy) is going to want back there, but there’s no doubt in my mind if he wants Micah back there that Micah can do it.”
Aug. 5: Packers defense must rely on youth