Countdown to Camp: Backup QB battle one to watch

QB Aaron Rodgers
QB Aaron Rodgers

This is the first in a series of stories examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The series starts with the quarterbacks.

GREEN BAY – With two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers learning a new offensive system for the first time in his NFL career, the questions this summer might never cease.

How’s it going? How much are you going to play in the preseason games? How much freedom will you have at the line of scrimmage? How will you know when you’re ready for Week 1?

Rodgers will answer those questions in due time between the start of training camp and the NFL Kickoff Game on Thursday, Sept. 5, in Chicago. There’s going to be a stronger spotlight on him than usual throughout camp and the preseason as he takes command of new Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s offense.

But there are just as many questions about depth at the position behind Rodgers, as the Packers need to use the month of August to decide on a No. 2 quarterback. As of now, there’s no clear-cut choice.

The following is the first installment in a series of photos examining the Packers' roster position by position. This installment examines the quarterbacks.

Third-year pro DeShone Kizer, with 15 starts as a rookie with Cleveland in 2017 and two extensive relief appearances in Rodgers’ place a year ago, has far more experience than either second-year man Tim Boyle and undrafted rookie Manny Wilkins. But that doesn’t mean the backup job is automatically his.

While the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Kizer went winless on an admittedly young and struggling Browns team two years ago, his on-field play did not noticeably progress last year, his first in Green Bay.

Getting thrown into the fire Week 1 against the eventual NFC North champion Bears when Rodgers temporarily exited with a knee injury would have been tough duty for anyone who had just arrived at the start of the offseason. But more disappointing was a rough and uneven outing four months later in the finale against last-place Detroit (16-of-35, 132 yards, one INT, 44.0 rating) when Rodgers was sidelined with a concussion.

That opened the door for Boyle, who possesses a similar, strong-armed build (6-4, 232), to battle for the No. 2 spot in 2019. The two shared backup QB reps throughout the spring with plenty of expected hiccups in the transition to a new offensive system.

Boyle will be looking to improve on his respectable though not eye-catching stats from three preseason appearances a year ago (26-of-53, 294 yards, three TDs, two INTs, 69.2 rating). Those numbers alone already indicated significant progress from the forgettable ones he put up in college at Connecticut and Eastern Kentucky, and now it’s up to him to continue turning his promising physical tools into production at the pro level.

Wilkins is the one in Boyle’s 2018 shoes, an undrafted rookie heading into camp fourth on the depth chart. If not for a knee injury in his final college bowl game for Arizona State, Wilkins probably would have been drafted. He has plenty of athleticism packed into his 6-2, 193-pound frame.

It might be tough for Wilkins to challenge for the No. 2 job this early, but if LaFleur structures practices in training camp the same way he did during OTAs, that’ll benefit him. During several team (11-on-11) periods this spring, two separate offense/defense groupings were going head-to-head at opposite ends of the practice field, which affords a lot more reps on a daily and weekly basis for a fourth quarterback. Even a third quarterback gets considerably more, too.

Ultimately, the pecking order will be determined more or less by the performances in the preseason games. But if there’s a chance for someone to take the lead in the race before then, it’ll be during the joint practices with the Houston Texans (Aug. 5-6) leading up to the preseason opener.

Any snaps the backups might be able to take against Houston’s first-team defensive stars like J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney and Johnathan Joseph could start to create separation in the summer-long competition.

COUNTDOWN TO CAMP SERIES

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