Flynn, Tolzien offer stability at backup QB

Weston Hodkiewicz
Press-Gazette Media;
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There always will be a part of Matt Flynn that wonders if he received a fair shot at being a starting quarterback in the NFL, but that's not what matters at the moment.

When Flynn re-signed with the Green Bay Packers in April, the seventh-year veteran understood he was being paid to back up his good friend, Aaron Rodgers, and hold off 26-year-old Scott Tolzien for the privilege to do so.

Flynn returned to Green Bay, his fourth and final stop in 2013, in November. His familiarity with the Packers' playbook allowed him to quickly leapfrog Tolzien for the starting job after Rodgers was sidelined with a broken collarbone.

His performance saved the Packers' season. Flynn wasn't perfect, but an economical 86.1 passer rating helped steer comeback December victories over Atlanta and Dallas.

Flynn, 28, waited three months before signing a one-year, $1 million deal to stay with the Packers, putting his desire to compete for a starting job on hold for at least another year.

"I don't know. It's hard to say," Flynn said when asked Tuesday if the starting chapter of his career is over. "Obviously that's probably a common thought around the league or whoever is thinking about it, but I hope not. But it's definitely me right now, for sure.

"Honestly, I consider myself very blessed to even be here. The ups and downs, a lot of people don't make it through that many teams that fast and stay alive in the league. So I'm excited for that. And glad that the Packers are giving me a second chance at this thing."

The return of Flynn and Tolzien upgrades what had been a tumultuous backup situation in Green Bay since Flynn departed after the 2011 season for a three-year deal with Seattle, which included a $10 million signing bonus.

The Packers had a long line of candidates, including Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman, Vince Young and Seneca Wallace, before Flynn and Tolzien finally emerged, though both had to catch up midstream.

Tolzien, who was signed to the practice squad in September, has made progress in his first full offseason working with Packers coach Mike McCarthy and new quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, particularly with his footwork.

That was one area the Packers' coaches weren't able to truly hone in on because of his in-season arrival. The former University of Wisconsin standout displayed a stronger arm than Flynn in three appearances last season, but also had five of his 90 passing attempts picked off.

Some of that, including an interception for a touchdown thrown directly to New York Giants defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul, could be attributed to his crash course on the Packers' playbook. This offseason presents an opportunity to take everything at a more comfortable pace.

"There's no substitute for game reps," said Tolzien, who worked with former quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo during pregames before his October promotion to the active roster. "You make a mistake in practice versus making a mistake in a game when there's 80,000 people watching, you truly learn the lesson in a game. With that, though, you're trying to turn the practices into game-like situations so that when the bullets are flying, you're ready to go."

Flynn and Tolzien said the competition and the dynamic inside the quarterbacks room has been good, though there is a chance the two are competing for one job with Tolzien out of practice-squad eligibility.

McCarthy said earlier this offseason he's not opposed to keeping three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, but history says otherwise. The Packers haven't started a season with that many active since Flynn's rookie year in 2008.

Last year's quarterback issues could make them reconsider. In a span of a week last summer, the Packers released Harrell, Coleman and Young, and inserted Wallace and Tolzien from the San Francisco 49ers' discard pile.

Right now, Flynn isn't too interested in where his name lies on the depth chart. That will take care of itself this summer.

"I've never gone into a camp where I wasn't competing in some way or fashion," Flynn said. "I'm competing to make the 53, but right now, I feel like I'm the No. 2, but they haven't really told us anything. We're just going out there and playing ball. So it's, I look at Scott and Aaron like my brothers. We cheer for each other."

The changes to the collective bargaining agreement mean McCarthy has needed to adjust some of the curriculum of his annual quarterback school, but Tolzien plans to study many of those suggestions during the month layoff before training camp.

Both quarterbacks said they have something to prove in Green Bay, but for different reasons. Flynn admits "there's things that still eat at" him about how things happened in Seattle and Oakland. Green Bay offers a chance at redemption.

Tolzien spent two years on San Francisco's 53-man roster before being released at the end of training camp. His workout and study habits have been well-established since he arrived in the NFL, but can he put it all together? Teammates said he can.

If the Packers have learned anything over the past year, it's the value of a capable backup quarterback. After a crazy turn of events in 2013, they should be much more equipped.

"We know now what Scott and Matt can do, and they'll be here all the way through training camp," receiver Jordy Nelson said. "That will be the big thing. Not only did we have to deal with the backup, there was two we hadn't seen and they were thrown into the fire two months into the season. That will be the big thing."

— and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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