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 firstname.lastname@example.org.