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The Packers' Summer of Failures at Backup QB

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The Packers' Summer of Failures at Backup QB

The fact that the Green Bay Packers had to sign 33-year-old Seneca Wallace on the first Monday of September highlights just how massively Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy and the rest of the staff failed in producing or developing a capable backup ahead of the 2013 season.

According to Ed Werder of ESPN, the Packers signed Wallace to be the primary backup to Aaron Rodgers, while also releasing B.J. Coleman, who had previously made the team's initial 53-man roster as the No. 2 quarterback.

Green Bay's summer was flush with disappointments behind Rodgers.

The Packers clearly came into the offseason with grand ideas of Coleman, a seventh-round pick last April, taking a big step forward and legitimately challenging 2012 backup Graham Harrell for the No. 2 role.

With a big arm and prototypical quarterback size, Coleman fit the bill physically. Another year in McCarthy's highly-respected quarterback school figured to give him a chance at rapid development in Year 2. But early on in training camp, it became obvious that Coleman's developments between the ears were still lagging far behind his physical skills.

At the Family Night scrimmage, Coleman completed nine of 18 passes for 100 yards, but also threw two inexcusable interceptions, including one that current practice squad cornerback James Nixon returned for a touchdown. It was at that exact moment that the Packers realized how poor their quarterback depth chart was behind Rodgers. Within 48 hours, former Pro Bowl quarterback Vince Young was flying into Green Bay for an official workout.

But even before Young signed his name on the dotted line, the cards appeared stacked against Harrell winning the Packers backup job.

Entering his fourth season in McCarthy's offense presented Harrell a distinct advantage over any other backup option in terms of knowing and understanding everything about the Packers playbook. But his education in the offense never translated to good test scores in live game settings, mostly because his physical limitations—both in terms of arm strength and out-of-the-pocket mobility—always canceled out any mental edge he possessed.

The Packers were willing to roll the dice with Harrell as the backup in 2012—in large part because Coleman was a raw rookie and there were precious few other options—but it was clear early on this offseason that Green Bay wanted to do better at No. 2 quarterback.

Remember, Harrell completed nine of 12 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown during the Family Night scrimmage. The Packers scored on each of the drives he captained. His performance should have been an encouraging moment for the backup situation.

Instead, Coleman's failures prompted the signing of Young the Monday after.

The Packers did Young no favors by waiting until the first week in August to bring him to Green Bay.

A crash course in McCarthy's offense wouldn't be easy for any quarterback, but Young was at an even greater disadvantage having been out of football for a full year. He played three preseason games for the Buffalo Bills last August but was otherwise absent from the NFL after the Bills released him before final cutdowns.

Young certainly welcomed the opportunity—he couldn't have asked for much more at this point in his broken career—but even Thompson acknowledged that the Packers should have brought Young in much sooner if they truly wanted to give him a legitimate chance at winning the backup job. While Young flashed at times, mostly as an improvisational scrambler, he struggled with accuracy and never appeared in full control of the offense. Even when given a full week with the first-team offense and a start against the Kansas City Chiefs, Young couldn't put together a performance that saved his roster spot on the Packers depth chart.

Against the Chiefs, Young completed just 14 of 30 passes for 144 yards (61.0 passer rating).

He finished the preseason averaging a dismal 4.4 yards an attempt. His passer rating was 71.6, but only once in four appearances did he have a rating over 62.0. On Saturday, the Packers officially sent the 30-year-old quarterback packing—a decision that was all but forced upon them by Young in the preseason finale.

His release marked the second quarterback cut in a week. Harrell was axed after struggling over a handful of series with the first-team offense against the Seattle Seahawks in the dress rehearsal week of the preseason.

At the time, Thompson's conclusion on his backups looked rather obvious. For all his improvements, Harrell was still a fringe NFL quarterback who had likely hit his talent and development ceiling. Young, despite his shortcomings, had a go-to skill (scrambling ability) and a chance to get better as comfort set in with the Packers offense and quarterback fundamentals.

Nine days later, the Packers are scrambling to find answers behind Rodgers with less than a week to go before Green Bay travels to San Francisco for the season opener.

Thompson and McCarthy have essentially admitted defeat in their offseason vision at quarterback. After heading into August with Coleman and Harrell battling to be the No. 2, the Packers now have Wallace as the backup and former 49ers third-stringer Scott Tolzien on the practice squad.

It marks the kind of quick and drastic roster turnaround at an important position that simply hasn't happened often in the Thompson-McCarthy era, and it surprisingly comes at a position in which both men are nearly universally praised for.

Remember, Thompson was the general manager who shrewdly drafted Rodgers in the first round despite having a future Hall of Famer already on the roster. He also took Matt Flynn, who would later challenge for two starting jobs after leaving Green Bay, in the seventh round in 2008.

McCarthy has worked with and helped develop as many big name quarterbacks as any one in the business. Few are respected more for coaching and developing the position.

The summer of 2013 will be and should be a black eye for both men.

Thompson's decision-making at quarterback this summer banked on Coleman's progression, which clearly didn't happen, even under McCarthy. Signing Young was a last ditch effort that failed, while Harrell's long-term development in the Packers system came to a crashing yet long overdue halt.

Wallace has thrown 31 touchdowns against just 18 interceptions over his journeyman career in the NFL, and the Packers actually worked him out last October. But his signing this late in the game only serves to highlight the mistakes and misdirection the Packers brass had about their quarterback situation this summer.

Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at zachkruse2@gmail.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (77) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Jamie's picture

Our personnel and coaching staff are very confident in their ability to coach guys up.

That's a blessing and a curse...sometimes it works beautifully, and sometimes it doesn't.

As for a viable backup...let's not act like that's not something 95% of the league is struggling with right now, as if there were a ton of other available options out there. It's a sorry state for backup QBs these days.

Idiot Fan's picture

Totally agree.

Mike47smith's picture

Even more reason why it's so important to have a good running game :)

Good article Zach.

Derek's picture

I can't for the life of me understand how a team can take 2 QBs into off-season workouts, QB camp, training camp, etc, keep them for that long, and then cut them right before the season starts. They couldn't see in May or June what they see now? Are game situations really that much different than practices? Do you mean to tell me these guys can light it up in practice and totally suck in a game? I don't think that's reality. Seems like TT and MM were holding out one ounce of hope but were really delusional all along on Harrell and Coleman. Now what?

Jamie's picture

You see things you like, you think you can coach a guy over the hump.

Happens every year, with almost every team.

You may want to get used to it.

Ruppert's picture

" Do you mean to tell me these guys can light it up in practice and totally suck in a game? I don’t think that’s reality."

That's a distinct possibility, actually. I don't know if that's what killed Harrell and/or Coleman, but that happens to a lot of guys in a lot of sports.

The prime QB example I can think of is Rex Grossman. I remember hearing he would routinely tear up the Bears' defense in practice, only to play like, well, Rex Grossman once the lights went on.

Zach is dead on, though. The Pack blew it big time. But now that it's all said and done, I think Wallace is a better option at backup than Young, Harrell, or Coleman. So we got THAT goin' for us...which is nice...

Mel's picture

I also think we got a better QB stashed away on the Practice squad with tolzen!! Nothing fancy but I think he could do alright in our offence!!

I bleed Green More's picture

Does anyone think this is the last backup they look at, might be a revolving door.

Tundrabum's picture

It might now be prudent to keep Rodgers dressed in a red shirt, surrounded by bodyguards, coated with Purell, and encased in bubble wrap whenever he's off the field on game day.

66Paperboy's picture

Might as well put Rodgers in a red jersey on game day if youre going that far.

Cow42's picture

Harrell < Coleman < Young < Wallace

The only problem with the Wallace signing is that it happened so late.

People have been clamorning for years for the Packers to sign a legit vet. QB to backup Rodgers. In my opinion, Wallace fits that description.

Remember - Wallace doesn't need to know the entire offense by wk 1.
He's a smart dude who's got some athletic ability, some starts under his belt, and some experience with the WCO (even though the Pack has drifted away from its WCO roots).

Who would we have rather they signed? Clausen? Edwards?

ZeroTolerance's picture

All good points.

Jamie's picture

For once...

Cow42's picture

...gee, thanks.

Mark in the montain's picture

U saved a lot of silicon.

jack in jersey city's picture

"Remember – Wallace doesn't need to know the entire offense by wk 1"

let's just hope aaron doesn't go down in the 49ers game

Cow42's picture

If he were to go down... They would lose, regardless.

Jamie's picture

That statement would be valid no matter who the backup and no matter the game.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I completely agree... I think Young could have worked out if he was brought in in the offseason. Just as I think Wallace would be better if he was brought in during the offseason, but I think Wallace is able to come in and be fine because I think Wallace is smart enough and has enough ability to be able to contribute early if needed.

Out of the other QB's out there the next best, I would say probably Clausen? Just because he has some experience but is young enough to still train. I like the Wallace signing better at this point in time though.
Clausen would be a better signing in the offseason so he could learn the offense.

Mark in the montain's picture

Young's speed limit on uptake limited his success. Maybe limits his upside!

jeremy's picture

I bet most the time they spend with Wallace this week will be determining the overlap of the current offense with what he already knows. Hopefully that's a good chunk.

Sir Cheese's picture

Are you feeling alright Cow?

WKUPackFan's picture

I have complete faith in TT and MM, but this particular situation does not look good. For all those screaming for Harrell's head, it appears that releasing him was a mistake. Wallace has some skills, maybe he's as good as anyone else available. However, he's not a significant upgrade from GH. In addition, replacing Coleman with Tolzein (sp?) doesn't appear to be a major upgrade either. So, in summary, two QBs out that already knew the system replaced with two that are not significant upgrades and start from scratch. Weird situation.

Jamie's picture

I can guarantee you the Packers do not look at releasing Harrell with any kind of regret. They brought him back and wanted to see improvement from last year...yet he was equally bad.

I can't imagine what you saw that nobody else did to make you write such a post.

WKUPackFan's picture

I didn't say Harrell was great, just that Wallace is not a significant upgrade. However, since you asked, what I saw in GH was a QB who knew the system and could manage the game if needed. The downfield pass Finley dropped in the Seattle game was the exact throw people were complaining that GH couldn't make. Look, I'm not a GH apologist or promoter. Just seems like keeping a guy with knowledge of the offense would be a better choice unless the other has much more upside.

Longshanks's picture

I agree. Harrel was a victim of bad drops by Finley and D.J. Williams that could have made him look much better that what people are currently perceiving him to be.

Out of the three qb's he's clearly the best option and that includes Seneca Wallace. I say bring back Harrel and we can forget about the backup spot for this year. Harrel served it last year and he can do it again this season. He certainly can game manage a game. Seattle has one of the best defenses in the NFL. Nobody would look good against them. Hell, Lacy had negative yardage and I don't see anyone looking to get rid of him?

Jamie's picture

Harrell released by NYJ...

Charlie's picture

Except Wallace is a significant upgrade.

WKUPackFan's picture

I certainly hope so. Could you elaborate on the reasons for that opinion?

primetime's picture

Once again a well thought-out article.Keep it coming.

jack in jersey city's picture

very well-written zach. i agree 100%. they are really flailing right now which is so unlike this organization

BeddarCheddar's picture

You're right...this is really bizarre. I'm getting worried that this is a developing trend where either we are not drafting the right guys or we are not developing them sufficiently. Manning, Moses, and Smith for the LBs, these jokers for the QBs, slim pickings for the OL, Green, Starks, and possibly Franklin for the RBs. Perry doesn't impress, and then we've got the odd move of Neal to OLB. Flailing about is a good choice of words...or maybe like throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. It's like this year's draft...taking two OL, two DL, two RBs, and two WRs seems we weren't confident in our scouting and we just hoped one of each would pan out. Looks like we may have gotten one good one for OL, DL, and RB, which was a necessity given the busts/lack of development from 2011 and 2012, but it would have been nice to draft a safety and/or a WR better than the PS.

joshywoshybigfatposhy's picture

i guarantee you could come up with a list at least that long, usually much longer, for any other team in the nfl if you knew their rosters as well as you do the Packers'.

the draft is a gamble, and the house always wins more than the players. the point is to win more often than your fellow players, and i think Thompson still does that more than most.

Barutan Seijin's picture

TT has been at it for a while now. He's 60 and has been with the Packers for 8 seasons. Wolf left after 9 years at age 63. We might be at the end of the TT years.

Cole's picture

In the end, none of this matters because without 12 we likely lose. But I am happy to see Wallace come in. He's better than Young, coleman, and Harrell. Bring on the 9ers so we can stop talking about preseason bs.

JackintheBox's picture

You know what...how about a litle trust...Harrell and Coleman both had ample time to show they belonged and they sucked. Had the played the CB position the way it looks today, they would have been gone long ago. Truth is; we only need one "the man" and we got him...back-up - well Harrell wasn't it, Coleman wasn't it, Young..same..and Wallace might not be it (but at least he played before) and yes; we are screwed if A-Rod goes down...but so are the Broncos, 9'ers, Patriots...blah blah blah...so you see; hunker down, strap on a pair and let's get Lacy going and we'll be fine...I need a beer now...game on.

4thand1's picture

To be fair to Wallace, he played on some pretty bad teams. Early with the young seachickens and the Browns? At least he'll have some talent around him for once.

PackerPete's picture

so you say that the 49ers have not as much talent as the Packers? If he had anything left he'd be the backup there.

Jake's picture

But can Wallace still play? He was out of the league last season and he was cut by two teams this summer. Who knows, he may actually be worse than Young and Coleman.

PackerPete's picture

yep, exactly my thinking. He is 3 yrs older than VY and didn't do squat this summer. This has bad move written all over it.

Evan's picture

Wallace has a better career qb rating (81.3 vs 74.4) and seems to be more careful with the ball (2.4 int% vs 3.9%).

And this is all mostly conjecture, but Young has always had questions about his intelligence and work ethic. I don't think Wallace has any such issues. He strikes me as a consummate pro.

I like the move. Now here's hoping he never sets foot on the field.

KennyPayne's picture

Easy Zach. While everything you state is accurate, you better be careful of pointing out unpleasant truths or you will not get invited to a seat at the table with Packer management.

My advice, take the Tyler Dunne approach and heap praise on TT's Golden Boys and you will have a long career with the go along to get along Wisconsin press covering the Pack.

zeke's picture

Exactly. Who here isn't sick to death of the fawning sycophants in the media who refuse to hold McCarthy and Thompson accountable for what they've done to this once-proud franchise? Other than the winning, can anyone name a single accomplishment that these clowns can call their own? And does anyone else smell burnt toast?

joshywoshybigfatposhy's picture

have you lost the feeling on one side of your body, perhaps?

Bugeater's picture

Yeah, that stupid winning. That's gotta be one of the most over rated stats in sports...

Ugh.

bogfan's picture

If I remember correctly, was Wallace the backup for Hasselbeck when Seattle went to the SuperBowl?

I know he's been on some good teams. Generally guys don't hang around past 30 unless they have something to offer.

Tarynfor12's picture

QB back ups are cans of spam sitting on the shelf waiting for the hungery teams to purchase regardless of knowing the appetite will not be quelled if the Entree' is lost.

The back up to worry about is the one taken to actually take over long term for Rodgers in about 4-5 years.

TommyG's picture

This is correct.

buckyor's picture

I'm not convinced that Harrell possessed any significant mental edge over the others. While he seemingly knew the playbook, that's only part of the mental equation. His physical skills were not great, but were sufficient to be an NFL backup.

However, time and again when given the opportunity in the spotlight, he shrunk. The stage was simply too big for him. Basically he had the football version of the yips. That's as big a factor in the mental part of the game as knowing the plays, and its the part he simply did not have.

I bleed Green More's picture

To me it seems like both Coleman and Harrell lost total confidence when they were in. Shame all the time and money and there gone. It had to be done, I am simply a fan but it was very obvious no confidence by the team or even the QB they were playing scared.

redlights's picture

You know, in the past, I trusted TT/MM/MM, but TT all but admitted that this is a true cluster. I think QB will stay as is for now; if AR goes down, they can always bring GH back as QB2 in mid-season 'cause no one will pick him up. The part that really gets to me is that GB (to my knowlege) didn't carry a full roster at anytime in the off season. Young could EASILY have been brought in. Why not? GH and BJ have fragile ego's? Gibbs says "always have a backup plan". Where was ours? Don't say the salary cap precluded it, because the castoffs wouldn't have counted toward the cap. Whoever said "inexcusable" is correct.

Let's hope this the last time COW42 is right this year!

Now back to our regularly scheduled Lombardi quest.

Jamie's picture

This is a complete misrepresentation of what TT said...thus you lose.

redlights's picture

You think this was the plan?

Jamie's picture

I think the plan was just like it always is, just like MM said today, you have young guys and you coach'em up and expect them to improve and you give them every opportunity to do so.

Neither Harrell or Coleman showed improvement, and in hind site TT is saying he should have hedged by giving Young more time because he wasn't given a valid chance to take the job. I think part of this is TT taking the blame to protect Young...something TT regularly does with cut players.

Once it was determined that we had no viable backup on our 75, the plan shifted to getting someone that's moderately better. I think they did that with Wallace...the best option on the market IMO.

davyjones's picture

absolutely right...VY was a class act when he got cut...saying all the right things. i think TT was doing the same. Wallace came in even later than Young did... he must think he's an upgrade.

redlights's picture

I agree that VY and TT have been class acts regarding their relationship. That doesn't dismiss the fact that if at any time between Jan 1, 2013 and July 31, I'd tell you what would transpire in Aug and early Sept; the reaction of 99% of us would be WTF. This isn't how you run a business; though TT/MM give us few examples of the wrong way of doing things, this is one of them. OF all the times that we've scratched our heads and wondered why TT left the cupboard bare, this one tops them all.

gbslapshot's picture

"The summer of 2013 will be and should be a black eye for both men."

All I have to ask is when do the players get some responsibility for this fiasco?

fish and crane's picture

The two QB's with the highest QB ratings in the NFC Central:
Rodgers and Wallace

A Dude's picture

It's the NFC North. If you don't know that then I have to question your fandom.

joshywoshybigfatposhy's picture

not his fandom, just his age. last division game i saw at Lambeau was against Tampa Bay.

4thand1's picture

Ponder doesn't like this.

Evan's picture

Greg Jennings likes it even less.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Yo, dog... It's 2013 not 1995. It's the NFC North.

Good factoid though... I'll steal it.

Fi crane's picture

Children don't you see
Naming us north is a conspiracy
east and west get to keep their name
And took away central
took away fame
They make jokes of the north
And free agents shiver
I'll call it central til I'm no longer a liver

4thand1's picture

Watch MM latest press con. He said people were given every opportunity and sometimes it just doesn't work out. Lets see, who could he be talking about. Everyone you draft doesn't make it. Harrell and Coleman can pack their bags with Tebow and head for Canada.

Jamie's picture

I absolutely loved his answer to that question.

davyjones's picture

A good portion of this article refutes the headline and the idea that 2013 will be a black eye for TT & MM. Harrell goes 9-12 in scrimmage and leads to 2 scoring drives? That is reason for some confidence. Are TT and MM responsible for Coleman's IQ not following his physical skills (yes, they could have recognized it sooner)? They had every reason to believe they had competent--not outstanding (who has an outstanding back up??), but competent back up qb option. When it became obvious they had miscalculated, they acted promptly. This is what any responsible manager does.

Also, TT's words about it being his fault by bringing in VY so late are total BS. If it was just about being late, how does the Wallace signing (which occurred even later) make sense? It has to come down to skill level and they felt Wallace was an upgrade over VY.

If there is a position this management team knows, it seems to be QB. I trust that given a little time, Wallace will be a significant upgrade over VY, Harrell or Coleman.

Now if the OL can keep AR upright for a couple of weeks, all will be fine with the backup.

Satori's picture

"Massive failures, flush disappointments, scrambling for answers !"

Good stuff if you wanna drive traffic and rile the masses

But unfortunately, the truth isn't nearly as dire.

The Packers draft & develop and both MM and TT speak often of the leap players make between year 1 and year 2. Same with year 2 to 3, guys take a big step forward.

But it just didn't happen. So what should any prudent organization do ?

Have a contingency plan. And they did. Which is why they quietly brought Seneca into GB for a workout this Spring. And since TT drafted Seneca in the 4th round in Seattle, he already knew about the guy. The workout gave them a current read on his physical condition and mental sharpness. That's not scrambling, that's planning ahead

While you all were still pissing & moaning about losing out on Steven Jackson, the Packers were doing due diligence and making plans at back up QB.
One plan if the youngsters worked out, two if they didn't

They also studied Vince's tape and had him on the short list to bring in if needed

MM trusts his process; they gave the young guys every opportunity and they came up short. It happens. Then GB went back to the cotingency plans they laid out this spring and made them happen

This isn't the Packers first rodeo

Jamie's picture

Great post.

Had Harrell impressed and won the job, people would be saying TT had it all planned out and was smart for not wasting a draft pick and/or money on a FA.

But since Harrell didn't win the job, now there just wasn't a plan at all?

"The best laid plans of mice and men..."

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

'While you all were still pissing & moaning about losing out on Steven Jackson, the Packers were doing due diligence and making plans at back up QB."

I'm catching what you're throwing out there. All this angst about a backup QB... I find it interesting and needless.

"This isn’t the Packers first rodeo"

No, it's not. The backup QB spot is in better hands at this very moment than at anytime since Flynn left. Seneca could go 2 and 2 if he needed to start 4 games, no chance in hell Graham or BJ could... Vince? Highly unlikely, but possible I suppose. Seneca has never had a talented roster around him, he does now... I feel great about our backup QB, considering who had that spot a week or two ago... Backup QB = Least of my Packer related worries.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

I suppose it could be argued Seneca had a talented roster for a time in Seattle... Not that it changes anything, but I'm sure some genius would've mentioned it.

Ma Linger's picture

The problems I see with the draft and develop is you spend time trying to make silk purses out of pigs ears. That ends up consuming time and money.
The end of last season the Pack spend enormous time getting rid of deadwood aka Zombo's. Next season ditto. Its get rid of the deadwood and replace them with what, more deadwood?
Harrell spent three years on the team and were just realizing now that he sucked?
No I'll take traded a ton of late round picks for a top notch second or third rounder. Someone who is a playmaker and can contribute.
If I'm right, Kaperdink picks apart out db's again and this team can't get off the field. Why? No one else wanted these guys.

Jamie's picture

Oh STFU already

packeraaron's picture

Jamie, you do realize you have become as annoying as cow42, right?

davyjones's picture

OUCH...that'll leave a mark.

Jamie's picture

So your sole contribution to this post is to troll me??

Now THAT's something cowtard would do.

Don Jossart's picture

We all wish the backup QB situation was better. I have read on this site and many others from the reporters and readers about the bad situation at backup QB. What I have not read from any of these critics is the name of the QB that should have been signed or obtained to fill that roll and the date this should have happened. There was talk last year about B. Quinn, but look where he is now. Imagine what the critics would be saying if we had traded for him. If you are going to criticize TT and MM, include what they should have done. If you don't have a better solution, your criticism doesn't mean much.

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