From left, Green Bay Packers quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman wait in the tunnel before the Family Night scrimmage at Lambeau Field on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012. / H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette
The deck was mostly stacked against Graham Harrell on Friday night.
It bears remembering the disparities in the matchups when assessing anything from the Green Bay Packers’ Family Night scrimmage, including Harrell’s middling debut as the team’s No. 2 quarterback in a game setting.
Harrell ran the Packers’ No. 2 offense for a little more than two series on Friday night. Most of the plays were against the team’s starting defense, which was minus only defensive back Charles Woodson, who was given the night off for rest and to allow more playing time for some of the team’s other defensive backs.
Harrell moved the ball well enough to put up a field goal on one drive and didn’t turn the ball over, but saw his two-minute drill against backups on defense fizzle out after a promising start.
“There were a lot of good things that kind of say we have a chance to be good and have a really good preseason as a second unit,” Harrell said, “and there were some things that if we don’t improve we’ll be in trouble.”
The Family Night scrimmage in many ways is more like a practice than a game, except in two respects: It’s in front of a big crowd — 55,605 spectators on Friday night — and game operations are like a game day.
But the structure is less telling than practice in many ways, because unlike in training camp practices, the No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense never matched up other than one throwaway play that was to practice a last-second field goal. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the starting offense had two series against backups on defense, and had touchdown drives both times, the second ending with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings against Brandian Ross.
Harrell and third-stringer B.J. Coleman worked against the starting defense with the exception of Harrell’s two-minute drive. Coleman ran the offense for eight plays in and managed but one first down.
Harrell, on the other hand, finished his night with an unofficial count of 11 completions on 18 attempts for 104 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
The night started poorly from a mechanical standpoint because offensive coordinator Tom Clements’ play calls over Harrell’s helmet speaker cut in and out for his first few snaps. Rodgers hand-signaled in the plays, and Harrell completed his first two passes, a 9-yarder to Diondre Borel and a 13-yarder to Jarrett Boykin. Clements then tried a new headset, which worked fine.
“I thought (Harrell) handled that very well, that’s a good experience for a young quarterback,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought performance-wise he did a nice job. He competed against the No. 1 defense, and really, I reserve judgment (on his performance) until I watch the film. I really didn’t get caught up in exactly performance, I was watching more our operation, situation, communication, things like that.”
In that first drive, Harrell gave way to Coleman after four snaps, as was determined before the scrimmage, and then in his second series moved the offense from his 20 to the defense’s 20. However, that included converting a fourth down in the defense’s territory where under normal game conditions McCarthy would have kicked a field goal.
Two plays stood out on the drive, both unblocked blitzes off the edge by cornerback Jarrett Bush. On both plays, the call was a screen pass, but on the first one Bush sacked Harrell before he get off the pass after blitzing from the opposite side of the designed throw. On the second, Bush blitzed from the same side as the screen, and Brandon Saine gashed the defense for a 28-yard gain.
“We were trying to throw a screen the first time to the other side and it just got wadded up,” Harrell said. “I probably should have got the ball out to (Bush’s) side, but I thought if they’re blitzing and we can get the screen out, we had a chance for a big play. Their D-line did a good job and kind of wadded up the back and cost us and we took a sack. Later we hit the back and sped out of there.
"They gave us a lot of good looks and we did some good things, and every now and then they’re going to get you. It’s my job to try to get rid of the ball, a couple times I did and a couple times I didn’t.”
Harrell’s hurry-up drill started from his 35 with 1:42 left in the game and the offense trailing 12-6. The only starter on the field was rookie outside linebacker Nick Perry.
On the drive’s second play, Harrell scrambled and hit backup tight end Brandon Bostick for an 18-yard gain that gave the offense life. But on the next two plays Harrell threw the ball away while under heavy pressure, then had a throw to Bostick that safety Micah Pellerin broke up. That left Harrell with a fourth-and 10 from the defense’s 41, and with the linebackers and secondary playing back, he ended up dumping the ball to Saine, who was tackled for a short gain, rather than taking a shot at a receiver downfield.
“Maybe it would have been better if I’d called routes. I didn’t get everyone to the (first-down) sticks,” Harrell said. “I could have motioned (Saine) out and gotten everyone past the sticks so that any throw is beyond the first down sticks. Looking back and talking with Tom (Clement), maybe that would have been the call for me to make.
"That’s something that Family Night and preseason games and practices are really good for, to put you in situations like that and say, 'Do you want to check down and see if you can get it, or do you want to run different routes and get everyone past the chains?’ I was thinking that honestly while I was dropping back.”
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