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Harrell increases arm strength, ready to compete

Posted Jun 5, 2012

It was a competition of sorts, and the guy against whom Graham Harrell was being judged just happened to be the reigning NFL MVP, Aaron Rodgers.

The object of the game was to throw a football from 20 yards and while on the run, into one of three small nets within a large-framed net. Packers Quarterbacks Coach Ben McAdoo would bark out a color – red, white or blue – at which the quarterback was to throw a football.

Harrell pulled away from center, flushed to his right and while running at something close to full speed, McAdoo barked, “Blue.” The ball came crisply out of Harrell’s right hand and fell sharply, accurately into the net that represented blue.

Rodgers and rookie quarterback B.J. Coleman sandwiched Harrell’s turns at the game and Rodgers, of course, made it look easy. Coleman had his moments.

“White,” McAdoo barked, and Harrell dropped it right into the white-marked net.

Now it was time to try the game while running to the left, which increased the degree of difficulty significantly. It’s one of the throws that define a passer’s arm strength.

“Blue,” McAdoo commanded. Harrell’s throw hit the mark, making the kind of swoosh sound ball and net make on a basketball court.

“Red,” McAdoo said, and Harrell’s marksmanship on this occasion was impressive enough to earn him a pat on the head from Rodgers, whose passes made a perceptibly louder sound as they contacted the net. The sound Harrell’s passes made, however, was loud enough, and that’s all that counts.

A quarterback’s arm only needs to be strong enough. Ask Joe Montana.

“I think everybody would agree that Graham is throwing with more velocity and I would say that would start with him. It’s a credit to what he’s done since the end of last season until now,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said following Tuesday’s OTAs practice.

“He’s stronger, he’s done an excellent job in the weight room, he’s done a few things fundamentally as far as the throwing mechanics, and you’ll see that improve as time goes on. Any time you make changes like that, it’ll show up in the individual drills first and it’ll eventually show up in team drills. Graham is having a nice spring, but there are still things he needs to work on and he will continue to do so. I really like his mental makeup, his awareness and instincts.”

This is the season of Harrell’s professional football life. This is the summer he’ll be given every chance to prove he can step into the shoes Matt Flynn so capably filled the previous two seasons. They are shoes that need to be filled, now that Flynn is in Seattle competing to become an NFL starting quarterback.

“He has an excellent grasp of the offense. He made two excellent protection adjustments today in the blitz drill. He’s doing well,” McCarthy said of Harrell.

The mental part of the game has never been Harrell’s challenge. It’s always been about arm strength, after having starred in the Texas Tech system that produced a lot of yards passing but failed to produce a legitimate NFL prospect. Harrell is now a legitimate NFL prospect.

“More shoulder strength; I think it’s very beneficial,” Harrell said in explaining the increased arm strength.

No quarterback ever likes admitting he lacked arm strength. Nonetheless, it was the rap he carried with him into the 2009 NFL draft, and it was the reason he wasn’t drafted. Cleveland brought him to minicamp as a tryout player in both ’09 and ’10. That’s what 15,739 passing yards at Tech earned Harrell, two minicamps as a tryout player for the Browns.

So what did the Packers see in Harrell that other teams didn’t?

“I think Mike loves developing quarterbacks. Maybe he saw it as an opportunity to develop another one. As far as developing quarterbacks, I think this is the best place you could possibly be,” Harrell said.

He sure gave every indication on Tuesday of a quarterback on the rise. He made sound decisions. He threw sharply, accurately.

“You can drive it more. You can have a little more pop on the ball,” he said, referring to the result of shoulder exercises Packers strength coach Mark Lovat designed for Harrell. “The things Mark had me do to work the little muscles in the shoulder. It’s helped.”

“The goal is to improve every day. Since I’ve been here, my goal has been to improve as a player.”

As OTAs give way to next week’s minicamp, the final three practices of the spring season, Harrell would seem to have his game where it belongs to step into the shoes Flynn left empty.

“Mentally, I feel like I understand the offense better than I ever have. Mentally, this as good as I’ve ever been,” he said.

And his arm is stronger than ever, too.

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