Third-string quarterback Graham Harrell was something of a Josh Heupel for the first week of training camp. Heupel, you might not know, was the former Oklahoma quarterback who had tendinitis in his shoulder and lacked the arm strength to play in the NFL. He was with the Packers for part of the 2002 offseason but didn’t even make it to training camp because he was couldn’t throw anything but check-down passes.
Harrell, though not to the extreme of Heupel, had played similarly to other quarterbacks who’ve come through camp over the years lacking the arm strength to hit receivers on medium and deep routes. For the first week of camp this year, the first-year player was excessively reliant on check downs to running backs, and short crosses or outs to receivers and tight ends.
But lately Harrell has grown a little bolder and had his best practice of camp Thursday night, when he took more reps than usual in preparation for Saturday night’s exhibition game against Cleveland. He closed practice with a credible two-minute drill where he took the No. 2 offense from about its own 40 with 1:27 to play and needing a touchdown, to scoring position with five completions. He spiked the ball at the 12-yard line for a final play, and against a defense that flooded the end zone, his scramble and throw to Patrick Williams was a little too wide for the receiver to keep his feet in bounds as he made the catch.
Also, in the morning practice Harrell threw a decent deep ball to James Jones on a go route, though cornerback D.J. Clark, who was beaten on the play, recovered to tip the ball just enough to cause an incompletion. Harrell also had about a 20-yard throw downfield to rookie tight end Andrew Quarless. Then in the night practice, he hit receiver Donald Driver on deeper out patterns twice.
Harrell also showed the downside of the riskier throws when a pass to receiver Charles Dillon was deflected and intercepted by Brandon Underwood. He’s still light years behind backup Matt Flynn and will stick with the Packers only as a member of their practice squad, but he looks like with the increased workload, he’s at least getting a little more comfortable with the speed of the NFL game.
Punters Chris Bryan and Tim Masthay both look like big-league material, but Thursday they had their second straight mediocre practice in live drills, this time during the windless morning workout.
The Packers worked on three different punts in succession: from backed up at their own 3; from their own 35; and a pooch punt from the defense’s 46.
Bryan hit three punts from the 3: a 38-yarder with poor (3.87-second) hang time; a 26-yard shank that prompted special teams coach Shawn Slocum to make him kick again; followed by a 45-yarder with 4.41-second hang time.
Masthay’s lone punt from the 3 was a 40-yarder that was low (4.06 seconds).
From their own 35, Bryan hit one punt, a 41-yarder with mediocre time (4.37 seconds); Masthay hit two for an average of 45 yards and 4.0 seconds.
On the pooch punts, Bryan hit two, one to the 12 and one to the 14. Masthay hit one, to the 12.
Did you notice?
Coach Mike McCarthy shortened both practices Thursday, finishing the morning in just under 1½ hours, and the night 1:58.
“I like where we are right now,” McCarthy said after the night practice. “I’m a little worried about the second half (of Saturday night’s game) because of our numbers on special teams, so I didn’t want to go two-plus hours. The tempo, I think it was the best tempo we had all camp, we were 22 minutes early from a tempo standpoint, that’s outstanding.”
Mason Crosby had a short field-goal period in each practice and went 5-for-6. In the morning he was 2-for-3, with makes from 48 and 45 yards, and a miss from 49. In the evening he was 3-for-3, from 28, 30 and 36.