The Green Bay Packers waited as long as they could for someone to step up and claim the team’s backup quarterback job last summer.
No one did.
Days before the start of the 2013 season, general manager Ted Thompson reshuffled the deck, tossing away Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman and Vince Young for a 33-year-old Seneca Wallace and former Wisconsin standout Scott Tolzien.
While Thompson doesn’t regret how things played out – three different quarterbacks started after Aaron Rodgers was lost for seven games with a broken collarbone – Packers coach Mike McCarthy hinted of his preference for the organization to take a quarterback in the draft in May.
What about Tolzien? McCarthy likes him. Matt Flynn? He hopes the veteran is re-signed after returning to the team in November. That being said, McCarthy still has a vision of taking four quarterbacks into the offseason program.
“It's such a fine line to straddle now because it's so hard to get four guys ready,” McCarthy said. “The practices have been cut down. Quarterback school has lost four weeks … I think we definitely need four, so I'm hopeful that we can get a young guy in the draft. That's something we're looking at and maybe taking even a harder look this year -- well, that's not true, we've always taken a hard look. That's something that we're focused on.”
In the past five years, Thompson has drafted only one quarterback: Coleman, in the seventh round in 2012. His mentor, Ron Wolf, did so on almost annual basis. The Packers have reportedly talked to a few quarterbacks at the combine, but it’ll be another three months before it’s known if Thompson will bite on any of them.
The Packers have teased taking four quarterbacks to training camp in each of the past two seasons, but released two undrafted hopefuls – Nick Hill (2012) and Matt Brown (2013) – before July rolled around.
The team carried four at the position for the last three weeks of camp after Young was signed on Aug. 6, but the restraints of a reduced schedule were reflected in Coleman’s reps being sliced for the rest of the preseason.
“The quarterback position's tough. It's the most important position in football and, frankly, I don't think there's enough time,” McCarthy said. “I don't think the new practice training structure gives you enough time to develop a whole group of quarterbacks. You can get your starter ready and you may get your backup ready but after that, I think the third and fourth quarterbacks are really taking a hit with this new structure.”
Despite the juggling act, last season could make the organization think differently about how it approaches things. After striking out on Harrell, Coleman, Young and Brown, Wallace admitted last month he and Tolzien were fighting an uphill battle against the playbook from the start.
The Packers went winless in November after Rodgers broke his collarbone and Wallace sustained a season-ending groin injury five quarters into his relief stint.
Tolzien showed promise in throwing for 339 yards against the New York Giants, but he also had five interceptions in three games. His arm was noticeably stronger than Flynn, but the six-year veteran's experience in the system won him the starting job only two weeks after returning on Nov. 12.
A full complement of quarterbacks taking part in the offseason program could benefit all parties involved.
While the Packers haven’t carried three quarterbacks on a 53-man roster for most of McCarthy’s tenure, the legacy of a Rodgers-less offense could make them reconsider.
“Things happen,” Thompson said. “We made some moves and people got hurt again. We finally were in a position to get Matt back and I thought Matt did a good job. It’s hard.”
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