B.J. Coleman might very well blossom into a productive NFL quarterback some day, but he’s not ready to get thrown into an NFL game that counts yet.
Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson disagrees, and if he stands pat, Coleman will be taking snaps if anything happens to starter Aaron Rodgers.
When asked if he was confident Coleman, with no regular-season experience, could fill in for Rodgers and be expected to win a game, Thompson replied at his Sunday press conference: “Well, we think he has a good chance to do that. Again, there’s a lot of things that he hasn’t seen yet. He’s played in preseason games but never played in a regular-season game. We’re getting ready to tee it off, so we’re getting ready to play.”
This is not a knock on Coleman’s skills. He has a big enough arm, plenty of heart and is getting better after Thompson selected him in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. But he desperately needs more seasoning, as evidenced by his lowly preseason completion percentage (41.2) and passer rating (49.6). Coleman ranked 110th in accuracy and 106th in passer rating among 115 NFL quarterbacks that threw a pass during the preseason.
Part of Thompson’s job is to put players in positions where they can succeed, and he would fall woefully short of doing that if Coleman is thrown into battle before he is ready.
Thompson took the blame on Sunday for not signing Vince Young sooner and for not giving him a good enough chance to earn the backup quarterback job. Young was the favorite to serve as Rodgers’ backup this season before he was sent packing on Saturday.
“It probably wasn’t fair to Vince,” said Thompson. “We threw a lot on his plate and the fault is probably mine. I probably should have had him in here earlier. He was a great teammate, he seemed like a very humble good guy.”
Thompson finally got around to signing Young more than a week into training camp. It didn’t appear to be a well-thought-out plan, and Young’s head was spinning as he attempted to learn the Packers’ complicated offense.
Thompson also gave up on last year’s backup, Graham Harrell, after the third preseason game.
That leaves the Packers in a precarious position if Rodgers, who was the most sacked quarterback in the NFL last season, suffers an injury.
Coleman’s preseason numbers were worse than Harrell’s or Young’s. The only other quarterback on the premises is former Badger Scott Tolzien, who was signed to the practice squad over the weekend but like Coleman has never played a regular-season down.
Thompson has attempted this high-wire act before. In 2008 the Packers’ backup quarterback was Matt Flynn, who had no NFL experience. And in 2012, Harrell served as the No. 2 signal caller with no regular-season snaps on his resume.
In those instances the Packers got away with it because Rodgers stayed healthy. But at what point is this risky backup quarterback game going to blow up in Thompson’s face?
“Playing quarterback is an interesting thing,” said Thompson. “I think I’ve said this before in here, you don’t really know until you know. You’ve got to be put in the fire and see how everything works and the timing and the reactions and all the things that go into playing that position. It’s an extraordinarily difficult position to play well.”
Which is why it would make sense to sign someone who has seen and felt that fire. Thompson has steadfastly clung to the hope that Rodgers will never get hurt. Sooner or later, he’s going to get burned using that approach.
The Packers’ Week 1 opponent, the San Francisco 49ers, have a fallback option in Colt McCoy in case starter Colin Kaepernick goes down. McCoy isn’t anything special, but he could enter a game and give his team a fighting chance to win. Who besides Thompson is willing to say that about Coleman?
It’s obvious that if Rodgers gets seriously hurt and misses an extended period of time, the Packers’ Super Bowl and playoff hopes will be shot. But why not put someone on the roster capable of spelling Rodgers on a short-term basis and winning a game here or there?
At this late date, the best the Packers can hope for is to sign a veteran quarterback who slowly picks up the offense and could contribute during the stretch run if needed.
There’s not a lot of good options out there, with Jimmy Clausen, Matt Leinart, Brady Quinn, Trent Edwards, David Carr, John Skelton and Caleb Hanie available. But wouldn’t just about any veteran with some regular-season credentials be better than the raw, inexperienced Coleman?
Thompson said he’s prepared to go into the regular season with Rodgers and Coleman as his quarterbacks. “That’s where we are right now,” he said.
Of course, that could change at any time. “We’re actively pursuing everything there is in the National Football League, at every position,” said Thompson.
He would be wise to scour every NFL nook and cranny and provide the Packers with a safety net at their most important position.
—firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.