NEWARK, N.J.––As the Green Bay Packers enter an offseason of uncertainty on the depth chart behind starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, count former Packers assistant coach and current NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci as one experienced observer who advocates the utilization of a veteran as the quarterback understudy.
"Not every club has a franchise quarterback or solid starting quarterback," said Mariucci at the annual Super Bowl Media Day in New Jersey on Tuesday. "Maybe there are not enough to go around. Are there 15? Are there 20? Whatever that (number) is. Also, not every club has a quality backup.
"What's a quality backup? You got to know that the starter takes just about every snap in practice all year. Very seldom will a backup get a snap unless the guy is sore or whatever. So it behooves you to have a veteran that doesn't need a lot of reps."
The Packers got themselves a veteran at midseason last year when they signed Matt Flynn in the month of November, but it arguably wasn't early enough after losing Rodgers to a broken collarbone in Week 9.
Prior to Flynn taking over and salvaging what was left of the team's season, the Packers severely misjudged the group of quarterbacks vying for a roster spot during the offseason and into training camp. None out of a group including Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman and Vince Young proved worthy of keeping around, and the carousel at the position ensued.
The Packers signed Seneca Wallace just as the season started but after he got injured, they had to turn to practice squad player Scott Tolzien, who was simply too wet behind the ears to carry the Packers on his shoulders.
Even though he apparently had a bum arm and had been cut loose by the Seahawks, Raiders and Bills, Flynn capably subbed in for Rodgers until he returned and led the team to come-from-behind victories over the Falcons and Cowboys and a tie against the Vikings.
Had it not been for Flynn, the Packers may have not qualified for the playoffs. And now they must decide which direction to go in the offseason, whether they re-sign Flynn as a free agent, stick with developing Tolzien or add someone else entirely.
If you ask Mariucci, taking the experienced route would be the best path. It's the veteran who knows the tricks of the trade.
"He's done that before;" said Mariucci, speaking of backup quarterbacks in general, "he knows the system; he knows these defenses; he's been in the league for seven, eight years or longer like a Matt Hasselbeck or Ryan Fitzpatrick or some of these guys that end up playing but didn't need all these reps because they played before; they started before."
Whether Flynn receives interest from any other teams in free agency remains to be seen, but after getting cut from three teams in one calendar year, he may not find much of a market. But perhaps that will suit the Packers just fine, happy to have a backup that's been there, done that.
"You hope that starter never misses," said Mariucci. "And it's a luxury to have a veteran backup quarterback. Like I said, not every team has one. And Green Bay got caught without one really."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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