This is the first in a series of stories that’s examining the Packers’ roster, position by position, heading into training camp. The series begins with the quarterbacks.
GREEN BAY – The backup battle is on.
As the Packers enter 2018, two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have a front-row seat to the competition brewing behind him.
Rodgers and the Packers, of course, hope the No. 2 QB doesn’t need to be called upon, as happened in 2017 for the second time in five seasons.
But should the need arise, last year’s backup Brett Hundley and new acquisition DeShone Kizer are the candidates, and there’s one thing that can be said about both that wasn’t true a year ago at this time – they now have significant NFL game experience upon which to draw.
Hundley started nine games a year ago after Rodgers broke his right collarbone, winning three of his first seven to keep the Packers on the fringe of the playoff chase.
That allowed Rodgers to come back in Week 15, but a loss at Carolina extinguished any postseason chances, and Hundley re-took the reins for the final two games.
It didn’t end as hoped, with the Packers dropping both contests to finish 7-9, and Hundley’s up-and-down play prompted the offseason trade for Kizer to create the backup competition.
Hundley had three truly impressive performances with a passer rating of 110-plus. But in five of the other six starts, his rating was sub-60. As a third-year player, he expected better of himself, and the Packers did, too.
Kizer’s statistical swings weren’t as wild in his 15 starts for Cleveland as a rookie second-round draft pick out of Notre Dame, but no wins and seven multi-interception games on his ledger made for a long year.
Kizer’s introduction to Green Bay this past spring focused on fundamentals and footwork. It’s been a lot to process, along with a new playbook. But he expressed confidence he’ll show a better grasp of the offensive system during camp than he did in OTAs.
From there it’ll come down to the preseason games, which are likely to feature Hundley and Kizer far more than Rodgers. The Packers’ starter has played very little in the preseason in recent years, getting most of his summer work done in practice.
It’s a work regimen Rodgers prefers, stating multiple times that this far into his decorated career, running preseason plays against vanilla defenses reluctant to put anything challenging on film provides minimal benefit.
Rookie Tim Boyle, undrafted from Western Kentucky, will get some preseason snaps, too, as he bids for either a No. 3 or practice-squad spot. The Packers like Boyle’s size (6-4, 232) and arm strength, raw physical tools that haven’t fully blossomed with just one year as a full-time college starter to his credit.
But the No. 2 job is the one in the spotlight, and it’ll probably take the entire preseason to decide it. The Packers haven’t had a competition for Rodgers’ backup this intriguing since, arguably, his first year as a starter in 2008, when Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm were rookie draft picks.
The biggest difference is Hundley and Kizer aren’t rookies, and the expectations are they’ll show growth from their 2017 experiences.
How much will be the key factor.