The 2012 preseason represents the most significant opportunity of Graham Harrell's professional football career, and it begins Thursday night in San Diego, where Harrell is expected to see plenty of playing time.
"It's just another part of the evaluation process. He's done well in practice. The games are the best preparation for him," Packers Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said of Harrell, whose performance in San Diego could go a long way toward cementing his position as Aaron Rodgers' backup.
The opportunity Harrell will have over the next four weeks was unlikely just a few years ago. He failed to stick in the CFL. He wasn't signed to a contract by the Browns after participating in two mini-camps as a tryout player.
Harrell was signed by the Packers in 2010 and hard work and Head Coach Mike McCarthy's confidence in Harrell have rewarded him with this chance. Thursday's preseason opener is anything but meaningless for Harrell.
"Any time you get a chance to play, it's important, whether it's practice or a game. This is probably the closest I'm going to get to game action. It'll be big, it'll be fun and I look forward to it," he said.
"This is Graham's first season here in the offseason. He has a very good understanding of what we do. He takes care of the football. I have a lot of confidence in Graham," Quarterbacks Coach Ben McAdoo said. "He's always had a good feel for where to go with the ball."
Packers General Manager Ted Thompson has a good feel for the importance of the position. A Packers team that's expected to be a Super Bowl contender needs to know it can win with its backup quarterback. The Packers had that kind of faith in Matt Flynn.
"This is a quarterback-driven league. The lifeblood of the league and the way the thing is set up to score points is quarterback driven," Thompson said. "You never know until you know. We like what we see."
Harrell was a star at Texas Tech, where he performed with the look of a player born to throw a football.
"He carries himself like a quarterback, he acts like a quarterback and he thinks he's a quarterback," Thompson said.
Popular opinion was that he lacked the arm strength to be successful in the NFL. In Green Bay, Harrell appears to have found that missing arm strength.
"He's gotten a little bigger, stronger; he's throwing the ball well and with a little more velocity," Clements said.
All of that will be on display in San Diego, as will the performance of a rebuilt Packers defense. First-round draft pick Nick Perry will be one of the featured performers. Can Perry help fix the Packers pass rush?
"Physically, I think we made a step in the right direction," Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said, referring to his outside linebackers in general and Perry specifically. "Erik Walden, I think, is going to be much better. Dezman Moses, it'll be interesting to see how he plays in these preseason games."
What does Capers want to see from his defense on Thursday?
"Calls and communication, basic fundamentals, everybody on the same page and as error free as we can be and, hopefully, guys playing full speed and getting to the football. It'll be interesting to see our guys tackle," Capers said. "These preseason games go by fast. The next thing you know, we're going to be preparing for the 49ers." Related links