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Backup Quarterback Remains a Worry for Green Bay

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Backup Quarterback Remains a Worry for Green Bay

For the better part of the last two seasons, the Green Bay Packers have had the luxury of a stable duo atop their quarterback depth chart.

Reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers quickly established himself as one of the game's best starting quarterbacks, and former seventh-round pick Matt Flynn did enough in a backup role to Rodgers that the Seattle Seahawks spent almost $25 million on acquiring his services this offseason.

Yet for the 2012 season—at least—it appears as if the Packers will not have that same kind of opulence at the quarterback position. The players vying to backup Rodgers next season are laced with question marks, which leaves the position as a legitimate worry for the Packers leading into 2012.

Time will tell whether or not the team's lack of an established backup will come back to bite the Packers. History will tell us, however, that the Packers are playing with fire with their backup quarterback situation next season.

A couple of recent examples regarding backup quarterbacks stand out.

The first came on a sunny 2008 afternoon in Tampa Bay, Florida, where Rodgers—a first-year starter at the time—was knocked out of a Week 4 contest with the Buccaneers with a shoulder injury. The pain cost Rodgers a series in the fourth quarter, which forced rookie Matt Flynn into the game with the Packers up, 21-20.

Green Bay quickly went three-and-out, gave the Bucs the ball back and watched Brian Griese lead Tampa Bay into position for a field goal. Matt Bryant's kick split the uprights, and Rodgers then re-entered the game with the Packers down two and a little more than two minutes left.

Rodgers, who the medical staff wanted to bench indefinitely, threw an interception on the Packers' second play of the drive. Flynn then came in after the Bucs converted the turnover into a touchdown on their next series and proceeded to throw four straight incompletions to essentially end the game.

Flynn certainly wasn't at fault for the Packers' loss, but his lack of comfort level leading an NFL offense as a rookie was woefully apparent. Flynn would eventually become ready for that role behind Rodgers, but he was far off early in 2008 as a raw rookie quarterback.

Green Bay's divisional neighbors to the south provided the Packers' a worst case scenario for 2012 last season.

The Chicago Bears were well on their way to a second straight playoff appearance in 2011, racing out to a 7-3 mark after beating San Diego in Week 11. But the win proved to be costly for the Bears, as quarterback Jay Cutler would be lost for the remainder of the season with an injured thumb.

The Bears season went into a complete tailspin following Cutler's injury.

Backup Caleb Hanie compiled a passer rating of 41.8 in the Bears' four subsequent games, all of which ended in Chicago losses. Coach Lovie Smith then turned to journeyman quarterback Josh McCown, who beat the Minnesota Vikings in the season finale but failed to turn a 199-yard rushing performance against the Packers into anything more than 21 points in a Week 16 loss.

A 1-5 finish to the Bears season turned what should have been another contending football team into one picking in the top 20 of the draft.

When assessing the Packers backup situation, ask yourself this question: Is there enough behind Rodgers for next season to think either of the above scenarios couldn't be repeated?

As it currently stands, Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman and Nick Hill are competing for the two backup spots behind Rodgers.

Harrell has two years in the Packers system but seems far from a lock to be the Packers No. 2 quarterback next season. Would he be prepared to play a full game in the Packers' offense if Rodgers went down with an injury in Week 4? In Flynn's third year, the Packers nearly upset the one-loss Patriots in a nationally televised game in New England. Is Harrell currently capable—even with another offseason under Mike McCarthy and Tom Clements—to do the same?

Of course, Coleman could pull a Flynn and win the backup job as a seventh-round rookie. But is he any more or less prepared to play significant snaps if Rodgers is knocked out of a game than Flynn was in '08? Coleman showed a big arm at the Packers' rookie minicamp this past weekend, but he's even more raw right now than Flynn was coming out of LSU. The ceiling is higher for Coleman, but there's plenty more work that needs to be done for the former Tennessee-Chattanooga quarterback to reach Flynn's readiness as a backup quarterback.

There's also Hill, a former Arena Football League quarterback the Packers signed after the 2011 season. Experience is a positive for Hill, but his arm is sub-par and he could struggle running the Packers offense as it currently operates. There's also a fairly substantial transition between the AFL and NFL games.

There's no easy fix for this potential problem.

I wouldn't endorse the Packers bringing in a veteran quarterback, if only because their success in grooming young quarterbacks has been proven. The team's best move long-term would certainly be keeping Coleman and then picking between Harrell and Hill as the roster's third quarterback.

But the team's best move doesn't come without obvious risks. Any kind of injury to Aaron Rodgers in 2012 is a hundred times the loss that it was in 2011, when the Packers could turn to Flynn and feel pretty comfortable about their chances.

Turning to Coleman, Harrell or Hill if the worst case scenario occurs next season doesn't inspire the same kind of confidence. Keeping Rodgers healthy in 2012 is a much bigger priority given the current status of the Packers' backup quarterback situation.

Long-term, the Packers do not have a huge problem on their hands at quarterback. But for the 2012 season alone, the question marks surrounding Rodgers' backups are enough to give pause about the position.

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Fan friendly comments only: on Comments (25) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

QOTSA1's picture

Even though he has been in the Packers system for 2 years, Harrell still seems like an unknown commodity. The Packers obviously like him, but I don't know if he could come in and win a few games if needed.

I don't see what the harm would of been to picking up a veteran backup. They could still keep a young quarterback like Coleman on the roster to develop, but have the security of having a quarterback who has NFL experience.

Lucky953's picture

I'm surprised you didn't mention the Colts--talk about a tailspin! Quarterback is the most valued position in football. You're very fortunate to have one skilled player there. That's the reality of the league. We will live and die with Aaron Rodgers. Let's hope Marshall Newhouse makes a nice jump in his level of play this year. Also, the rules changes help protect the players that fans want to see the most. Nobody, except his family, wants to tune in and watch Graham Harrell lead the Packers in a big game. Personally, I'd rather watch the Packers kick the Bears butt with Jay Cutler than without him. Remember the old gunslinger?

Nerd's Laptop's picture

PREDICTION: Someone will emerge as a competent #2.

Jamie's picture

'...Remains a Worry for (some) Green Bay Fans'

PackersRS's picture

No kidding.

Not meant as a slight to you, Zack, but every single year since Favre left, without fail, there's been an offseason post about the backup QB job, and how thin the Packers are at that spot.

It was usually Alex Tallisch making the point, but apparently his legacy lives on.

At least this time no one is clamoring for a veteran backup ;)

I miss the lounge...

Oppy's picture

since BEFORE Favre left.

It's been every single year since Doug Pederson left.

Not to mention, there were more people who thought Rodgers was an injury prone joke of a #2 QB than people who thought he was a competent back up, much less future starter, up until Rodgers' step-in performance at Dallas when Favre went out injured (got yanked).

It's been a LONG time.

Shyam Sundararaman's picture

Valid points and a valid concern.

Chris's picture

Would anyone more secure if the Packers had Matt leinart as a backup for example? I would not.
Fact is: If your first QB goes down for more than 4 games your season is probably over.

murphy's picture

I suppose you could draw comparison to the 2008 Patriots - they lost their franchise QB, but still had a competitive season with good coaching, a solid roster, and a backup QB who was familiar with their system.

I can't think of any available backups that would be significantly better than what the Packers already have.

There might be a few that aren't available but may eventually be, like Colt McCoy (a guy who might still develop into a decent QB in the right situation), but it would be a stretch for any of them to come into the offense and lead a playoff run.

Nerd's Laptop's picture

If I was Matt Leinart, I'd be paying the team for the privilege of learning from MM. And I guarantee MM would make a man out of him.

Beep's picture

I'm not overly worried if things are questionable this year going into camp. GB has been developing quality backups for years: Brunell, Detmer, Hasselbeck, Pedersen, Brooks, Rodgers, Flynn. There have been a few misses like McMahon, Rubley, Bono, O'Sullivan, and Nall, but like Chris said, your team is in trouble if your starting All-Pro QB goes down for more than 4 games. If we don't have the answer at back up QB this year, TT will find one next year.

Tony's picture

I recall a similar reaction when Flynn was the No. 2. If Rodgers goes down (knocking on wood), the team is screwed no matter who is behind him.

Evan's picture

Exactly. Even last off-season I remember people freaking out about the back-up QB situation.

MarkinMadison's picture

We had the same conversation about Flynn two years ago. Even last year some had doubts about Flynn - and he wasn't exactly handed a starting job with a huge contract the way I assumed he would be given his performances against New England and Detroit in the last two years. The bottom line is that unless you get a retread who used to be a starter your backup will always be an unknown quantity to a greater degree. And if you "know" what you're going to get from a guy it is usually not a good thing.

Rocky70's picture

With AR starting the majority of games, GB is a legitimate playoff team. ---- Without AR, GB is not much better than a 5 or 6 win football team. This all goes back to fixing the "D". Unless the 'fire squad' (1st six players drafted in 2012) come in & contribute from game 1, a season without AR would secure a top ten draft pick in 2013.

Travis Cleavenger's picture

I honestly don't think Graham Harrell can be a good QB in the NFL. I think he has the accuracy but not close to the arm strength you need. Matt Flynn's arm was below par and Harrell's is even below his. I think Coleman has a lot of upside, but in the end I think TT waited a year to long to draft and develop a backup QB.

PackersRS's picture

Nowadays you can't win a SB with a backup QB, regardless of who he is. Does anyone think an early playoff exist is a successful season? I'd rather have an earlier pick in the draft.

As for not having Rodgers for a couple of games, then I'd rather have someone who knows the playbook.

Woodson4president's picture

I think mcnabb would be a good pickup for a couple years till we got a good qb in the draft.

Chris's picture

McNabb today might as well play OLine, he has the stature for it. Sorry but his time is over.

Evan's picture

The thought of McNabb in the green and gold taking the snap in a meaningful game is terrifying.

PackersRS's picture

But he throws the ball at the receivers' feet so well!

Charlu19's picture

With the new safety precautions and A-Rodg's extra bulk, there's no need for extreme worry... Albeit rational and possible, it's otherwise unlikely... You can say "if we lose Rodgers" comments all day, but who wins the Super Bowl without their starting quarterback? If Rodgers goes down, we're screwed... I don't care if we still had Flynn... Still screwed...

Bohj's picture

Eli manning.
Aaron Rodgers.
Drew brees.
Big Ben.
Eli manning.
Pay ton manning.
Big Ben.
Tom Brady.
Tom Brady.

Yup.... No backups on that list.
Seriously. Does backup matter in this league?
We're built for a superbowl now. Who cares about backup?
It's not worth screwing the cap. Develop who you have.
Pretty sure Clements knows what he's doing.
Protect ar. Develop the new scrub.
Name

Bohj's picture

......any one of Tom brady's backups during their superior decade.
A mediocre backup like cassel will yield about the same season with him at the helm. Live and die with your all-star.

Astor's picture

it's not about winning it all with your backup, it's about staying in track if you lose your starter for 3-4 games and not screw your playoff run.

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