GREEN BAY – The competition for the No. 2 quarterback job technically began back in mid-April when Brett Hundley and newly acquired DeShone Kizer arrived for the start of offseason workouts.
Realistically, though, the battle starts Thursday night.
The play of Hundley and Kizer in the preseason games, the first of which is against Tennessee at Lambeau Field, will be the biggest factor in determining who's right behind Aaron Rodgers in the QB pecking order.
As of Tuesday morning, Head Coach Mike McCarthy hadn't determined playing time for the preseason opener. Based on recent history, Rodgers likely will sit, so Hundley and Kizer will handle the bulk of the game, with possibly some time at the end for undrafted rookie Tim Boyle.
All McCarthy indicated is he would "balance" the reps between Hundley and Kizer, while General Manager Brian Gutekunst sounded as though he'll be keeping the evaluation rather simple.
"Managing the offense, managing the huddle, moving the ball and making plays – that's what they're out there for," Gutekunst said. "That's what we'll be looking for."
It's an interesting contrast between Hundley and Kizer, experience-wise. Hundley is in his fourth year in the NFL but has started only nine games, all last season in Rodgers' absence, winning three. Kizer, with Cleveland, was just a rookie a year ago but started 15 contests, though he won none.
Hundley characterized his fourth season to this point as "getting back to basics," in terms of mentally processing and understanding the offense, and learning from his ups and downs in 2017.
"It's really cool for this to be the first offseason for me to study my own game film," he said. "I feel comfortable out there. Things are starting to slow down even a lot more."
Rodgers said the key for Hundley will be getting in a rhythm, as line checks such as protection and route adjustments should be closer to second-nature by now.
"For him it's about finding that calm in the pocket and having things come to his mind quickly," said Rodgers, who complimented Hundley on his camp thus far. "That's just what being a more experienced player allows you to do is recall those things."
For Kizer, Rodgers believes he's ready to take his knowledge of the offense into a game setting. Moreover, he needs to take advantage of the clean slate he's been afforded in Green Bay, play loose and have fun again.
"He looks at this as kind of a fresh start for him," Rodgers said. "As tough as last year was at times, being the starter and not winning any games and being on a bad team, … Now, having less pressure on him has given him some of that love for the game back that he had at college.
"When that starts coming back, things start slowing down, you start enjoying the little things a little bit more and your play generally picks up, and I think the last couple days you've seen him practice really well."
Assuming the starters don't play much on Thursday – receiver Randall Cobb (ankle) and tight end Jimmy Graham (knee) were among those held out of practice on Tuesday for precautionary reasons – Hundley and Kizer will be counting on a large number of young receivers to help them out.
They should be geared up and ready to go Thursday, not only for their chance to make an early preseason impression, but also to avoid any additional criticism from Rodgers.
The two-time MVP expressed considerable displeasure with the end of Tuesday's practice when he was running the scout team. The effort level was low and the mental mistakes high, so much so that on the final play of practice in the red zone, a frustrated Rodgers fired the ball low and hard straight at the front pylon of the end zone.
"When you're looking at a (scout team) card, it tells you exactly where to line up and exactly what the play is. There's no excuses," Rodgers said, acknowledging the whole team was tired after a second consecutive long practice.
"I'm getting older and grumpier," he continued, trying to laugh at least a little. "I've been at this for a long time, and I'm tired, too. We're all a little tired. So you get tired, the fuse gets a little shorter."
It was definitely a message that the young players on offense need to pick it up, especially come Thursday. Rodgers didn't direct his comments at anyone in particular, though he acknowledged the progress made by third-year pro Geronimo Allison and practice-squad holdovers DeAngelo Yancey and Jake Kumerow.
"There's too many repeat mistakes. You want to be able to trust guys out there," Rodgers said, referring to other young receivers and emphasizing a number of veterans they can look to as examples of "what it looks like."
"If you're not running the right routes, catching the ball when you have opportunities, catching contested throws, it's hard to have confidence to put you out there when it's for real."
On Thursday, it'll be as real as it gets at this point. Drills in practice only mean so much.
"We're trying to find the best guys to play 11-on-11 football," Gutekunst said. "That's what matters."