GREEN BAY – It has been quite the year for Kurt Benkert.
After being cut by Atlanta in February, the 26-year-old quarterback signed with the Packers in May, only after a successful tryout at the team's post-draft minicamp.
Now, after taking a modicum of reps behind Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love, Benkert could very well start in his first preseason game in nearly three years this Saturday against the New York Jets, because of the shoulder injury Love sustained in last Saturday's preseason opener against Houston.
Benkert entered that game thinking he might play in the fourth quarter. Instead, the third-string QB got the entire second half against the Texans – completing 8-of-12 passes for 88 yards with a late interception.
If Love can't go, Benkert is champing at the bit for his next opportunity.
"I'm honestly looking at it just like I do every day … prepare like I'm the starter, ready to go," Benkert said. "Like even last week, I didn't know I was going to play immediately in the second half … and then Jordan has his little thing so just was ready to go. Just trying to build off of it this week, take care of the football a little bit better, keep being decisive, keep throwing it and not hesitating."
Benkert's offseason had its highs, lows, and everything in between. It started in February when he was working out in South Florida and enjoying a quiet offseason with his wife, Sam, and infant daughter, Scout.
He then received a call from new Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot. Benkert answered, enthusiastically. As the Falcons' third-string quarterback for most of the past three seasons, he figured Fontenot was making the rounds and introducing himself to the team.
Not quite. Instead, it was the call no young player wants to receive, informing Benkert he was being released.
"I was like, 'Hey, nice to meet you,'" recalled Benkert earlier this month. "(Fontenot) was like, 'Hey, yeah, this isn't that type of call.' It was what it was. I wasn't too discouraged because I knew another opportunity would come up and I'd be ready for it."
The 6-foot-3, 218-pound quarterback had to wait three months for that next NFL chance. It came in the aftermath of the draft, when Benkert's agency called to let him know the Packers were interested in bringing him in.
But by bringing Benkert in…they meant attending the team's rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. Undeterred, Benkert flew into Green Bay, flashed a live arm, and earned a contract.
Reps haven't been easy to come by this summer, with Rodgers back in Green Bay and the Packers wanting to give the developing Love as many snaps as possible, but Benkert is used to it after playing behind another MVP quarterback (Matt Ryan) and entrenched No. 2 (Matt Schaub) in Atlanta.
Since Rodgers' return, Benkert has put his time with the league's reigning MVP to good use, asking the right questions and tailoring his footwork to match Rodgers'.
"This is his third preseason now, and I think there is some confidence there and he believes in himself, and I love that part of it," said quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy of Benkert. "He's also been really good in our room. He's taken that role on, too.
"Being around All-Pro guys like Matt Ryan, he knows what this is all about and he knows one of his primary focuses is making sure that the room is doing well and that Aaron's going to play at a high level, and it's all about getting the guy that's on the field playing at a high level."
In just three months, Benkert has also worked his way into the hearts of Packers fans on social media through a series of videos featuring him in a full-body Halo outfit and skateboarding down Oneida Street on his way to work…at Lambeau Field.
This past week, Benkert posted a video of him and his daughter enjoying a moment after practice at Nitschke Field. Scout has crystalized a lot of things for Benkert over the past year and is also the reason he will have so many family members in town this weekend, as they'll be celebrating Scout's first birthday after the game on Sunday.
"It just kind of gives me a whole new perspective of my job and it takes the edge off a little bit," Benkert said. "Because no matter what happens here – I could have a great practice, a bad day, she doesn't care when I go home. She just wants to play with her blocks and her cars."
Benkert is the first to admit there was plenty to clean up from the Texans game, namely a fumbled exchange and the late INT, but his determination and willingness to stand tall in the pocket are two traits that have stood out to the Packers' coaching staff.
While a gunslinger by nature, Benkert credits former Falcons quarterbacks coach, Greg Knapp, for helping him harness his ability. After the Jets hired Knapp as a passing-game specialist this offseason, the two had been looking forward to reconnecting in Green Bay during the joint practices.
Benkert and Knapp even talked about it on the morning of July 17. Later that day, however, Knapp was struck by motorist while riding a bicycle near his home in San Ramon, Calif. Four days later, Knapp died at age 58.
"I spent probably more time with him in three years than anybody, including my wife. We were sunup to sundown," Benkert said. "He helped me blend my game a little more toward, 'Hey, this is how you play quarterback in the NFL and then you can also mold your skill set around that, but this is the base of what you need to know to be successful.'
"And I attribute a lot of my success to him, so obviously that was really tough."
Benkert put those lessons to use on the practice field this week, successfully leading the No. 2 offense to a touchdown in a two-minute period on Wednesday. On Thursday, he used his feet to extend a play and uncork a deep ball to tight end Josiah Deguara during a move-the-ball period.
After taking more reps in the past six days than he probably did during his first three months with the Packers, Benkert hopes to build on everything he's done Saturday afternoon.
"I'm always ready to play, like I keep saying, but I think just knowing you're going to have more opportunities," Benkert said. "I'm not like the bottom-barrel guy just trying to make plays so they see me. It's more of take care of the football, march the offense, operate and make sure guys are in the right spots, doing the right things."