GREEN BAY—A year ago at this time, the Packers were on the verge of deciding they didn't have a viable backup quarterback on the roster.
Now, they feel they have more than one.
"It's a lot more comfortable," Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said. "It was difficult last year."
Was it ever. After the final preseason game in Kansas City, the Packers started over at the position behind Aaron Rodgers, bringing in Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien. Wallace eventually got hurt, which led to the return of Matt Flynn.
Since the start of the offseason program in April, Flynn and Tolzien have been competing for the top backup job. Judging by the way practice and preseason reps have been divided, nothing has been decided. That will have to change, of course, following Thursday's game.
Flynn's performance down the stretch last season carries a lot of weight, but so does Tolzien's marked improvement in his first full year in Mike McCarthy's offensive system. Tolzien's preseason numbers (26 of 38, 338 yards, one TD, 104.9 rating) are more impressive than Flynn's (11 of 23, 130 yards, one TD, one INT, 61.9 rating), but through three games, more of Tolzien's snaps have come against bottom-of-the-roster defenders.
Quarterbacks Coach Alex Van Pelt says they're "both deserving of the job," which will make for a tough decision, but a better problem than the one the Packers had last year.
"They both take control of the offense and move the offense when they're out there," Van Pelt said. "They're smart guys and they do everything you ask. I'd like to think we're pretty confident in both guys."
McCarthy said Flynn is about 10 snaps behind in preseason game reps, so he'll try to even that out on Thursday against the Chiefs. Rodgers often has sat out the final preseason game. Assuming he does again, it'll be Flynn and Tolzien in some order for the entire contest. McCarthy isn't interested in alternating series but suggested they could switch quarter by quarter.
A fourth preseason game presents its challenges for experienced quarterbacks like these two. They'll be trying to direct an offense filled with players trying to make one final impression for an NFL job.
"You have to be sure everybody knows where to go, everybody knows what play it is," Flynn said. "When you have a bunch of young guys fighting for jobs out there, you never know what you're going to get.
"More so than the other three games in preseason, it's two teams that are definitely not trying to out-scheme each other. It's two teams that are going out there, lining up, running our plays to see who's better."
As is always the case, special teams will factor heavily into the decisions for the final roster spots. For any non-quarterback and non-starter, what he can offer on return and coverage units will matter.
"The first meeting in the rookie orientation, it's in the top three things you talk about – the vehicle onto our football team is through special teams," McCarthy said. "It definitely is a big factor in a lot of decisions."
The perceived quality and value of those players could affect Flynn and Tolzien, too. The Packers could make the rare call to keep three quarterbacks, or they may let one go in order to keep another young player. The competition for spots is roster-wide, not necessarily head-to-head.
On Thursday, that competition reaches its final stage, for the backup quarterbacks and everyone else.
"It's the last opportunity, but it's not the only thing that you make the evaluation on," Clements said. "You make the evaluation based on everything – meetings, practice time and the entire preseason."