DALLAS––When Chicago Bears quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Todd Collins went down in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers, most of the nation was wondering, “Who the heck is Caleb Hanie?”
With a berth in the Super Bowl on the line, the collective football-watching country took notice of the third-string quarterback for the Bears.
Because quarterback is such a high-profile position, an appearance in the Super Bowl would bring Packers no. 3 quarterback similar notoriety… and then some.
“You never want to see anyone get injured or anything like that,” said Harrell. “Hopefully Aaron [Rodgers] can stay healthy and play well, but if it came down to it, hopefully I’ll be ready to play and can go perform well and put on a good show out there.”
Not that it’s likely Harrell is going to play. It would take injuries to both Rodgers and backup Matt Flynn for Harrell to get in the game.
One difference between Harrell and Hanie, the Packers quarterback is already in the consciousness of a lot football fans thanks to his record setting college career at Texas Tech. Harrell is the NCAA’s all-time leader in career passing touchdowns and completions.
“Graham is obviously a very talented passer, obviously a lot of success in college and high school and everything like that,” said Flynn. “He came in here this past spring and had a tryout and has just really done well. He’s won a spot on the team; he’s been activated for probably seven, eight weeks now. And he’s just proven himself, he’s proven to people that he can play in this league, and that he deserves to be here.”
Despite being a known commodity coming out of college, Harrell wasn’t able to latch on with an NFL team in 2009. He had a tryout with the Cleveland Browns but wasn’t offered a contract. He then followed that up with a brief stint in the Canadian Football League that didn’t last either.
But since arriving in Green Bay, he’s worked his way up the quarterback ladder. From that time onward, he’s gone from free agent to the practice squad to the 53-man roster, leaving some to wonder how quickly he can take the next step.
“Graham has the mental makeup,” said quarterbacks coach Tom Clements. “He throws the ball well when he is out there in the team drills. Once he has an offseason and can really learn the system and all of the ins and outs of it, he will get better and better. He has a knack for doing the right things when he is out there in the team drills.”
Harrell knows he’s found the right place in order to develop as a quarterback. The education and support system from the coaches to the players is top notch.
“I think here in Green Bay is a great place to learn and develop as a quarterback,” said Harrell. “Aaron does a great job trying to help me out, me and Matt both.
“Our quarterback coach Tom Clements is as good as there is probably out there. And Mike McCarthy, I think his kind of resume speaks for itself as far developing quarterbacks. And our offensive coordinator Joe Philbin does a great job. So as far as a first place to be and learning and developing, I think I’m in as good of a place as you can possibly be.”
There’s no evidence that Harrell’s just toeing the company line either.
Clements and McCarthy are about as respected as they come as far as developing NFL quarterbacks, according to former NFL quarterback and current Sirius NFL quarterback Rich Gannon.
“He couldn’t be in a better spot,” said Gannon of Harrell. “I just think there’s some teams in football that do an outstanding job at developing the quarterback position. I think, quite frankly, there’s other teams that have no idea what they’re doing.
“I think that Mike and Tom Clements combined do an outstanding job of coaching that position. I’m talking about from February 1st or August 31st. I think they get a lot done in that window: the quarterback school, the OTAs, the minicamps.”
Gannon is a close acquaintance of McCarthy, but he also knows what he’s talking about. The NFL’s MVP in 2002 is also a four-time Pro Bowl selection and has an intimate knowledge of the Packers as their preseason television broadcaster.
For the time being, Harrell just has to bide his time and learn as much as possible.
“Hopefully I can just continue to improve as a player and continue to get better and when my number is called or when I get the opportunity, make the most of it and become a starter maybe someday,” said Harrell. “I think if you make the NFL, everybody wants to be a starter, and that’s my goal someday. I don’t know when that’ll be, but whenever I get that opportunity, I can make the most of it.”
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