Flynn, Tolzien ready for final exam
Aaron Rodgers understands his job is to win games for the Green Bay Packers and not to serve as an adviser to general manager Ted Thompson on personnel matters.
When Rodgers looks across the room, however, he sees two capable candidates, Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, competing for the right to back up the MVP quarterback.
In less than a week, there's a chance only one will remain.
"Spending so much time with Scott and Matt, you pull for both of those guys because you see how hard they work and how much it means to them," Rodgers said. "Obviously, (I) would love to see both of those guys stick around."
Twenty years ago, this probably would have been an irrelevant discussion as most teams kept three quarterbacks on the active roster. Today, many prefer to use the extra spot to augment special-team units with an extra receiver, linebacker or tight end.
That's been the case in Green Bay, where the Packers have stashed a third-string quarterback on the practice squad to start each of the past five NFL seasons in lieu of the additional roster spot.
The last time the Packers went into the regular season with three quarterbacks on the roster was Flynn's rookie year in 2008, when the seventh-round pick beat out fellow rookie Brian Brohm, a second-round bust the Packers felt sheepish about cutting right away.
Both Flynn and Tolzien have made convincing cases. It's up to the Packers to weigh Flynn's past successes in coach Mike McCarthy's offense against Tolzien's strong showing in the preseason.
Tolzien still has practice-squad eligibility since he's never been on an active roster for more than eight games in any of his three accrued seasons, but another NFL team could claim him if he's exposed to waivers.
That could make the Packers reconsider their recent approach to the backup position, especially since three different quarterbacks started at least one game last season after Rodgers was sidelined for seven games with a broken collarbone.
"I don't know if that particular instance would change us, but I think you know from experience what works and what doesn't," Thompson said Wednesday. "You try to be prepared for as much as you can be, but you can't for big surprises. Those are hard to overcome."
The battle between Flynn and Tolzien has been raging since Flynn returned to Green Bay in November and quickly usurped Tolzien as the starter. The Packers were 2-2-1 in games Flynn finished.
It helped the Packers salvage an 8-7-1 season, which was good enough to win the NFC North for the third straight year. Still, the organization waited until late April to bring Flynn back on a one-year deal.
Tolzien seems to possess more arm strength than Flynn and a willingness to attack downfield. According to Pro Football Focus, Tolzien is 12-of-14 for 215 yards and a touchdown on completions of more than 10 yards compared to Flynn, who is 1-of-6 for 19 yards, in the preseason.
While Tolzien's quarterback rating is more than 40 points higher through three games, Flynn has produced more scoring drives (4-2) in 14 fewer snaps. His past production in McCarthy's offense also is part of the equation.
Flynn's first four NFL seasons paralleled Rodgers' first four as the Packers' starting quarterback and a friendship was formed. The two attended Wednesday's team luncheon in matching denim outfits.
"Scott's a gym rat," said Rodgers, comparing the two quarterbacks. "He really puts a lot of time into it. He's great at preparing. And Matt has got that moxie, that ability to make plays in game situations like we saw last year when he's had little-to-no preparation during the week. Him and I have a good relationship over the years, being friends and working together."
Injuries to Rodgers and Seneca Wallace resulted in Tolzien's quick ascent up the depth chart. He was productive in throwing for 717 yards in three appearances, but he also tossed five interceptions in 90 passing attempts.
The Packers tinkered slightly with Tolzien's footwork this offseason and cleaned up a few things in his mechanics, which quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt says has helped with his downfield delivery.
Tolzien started slow in camp, but has played faster in preseason games. He's completed 26-of-38 passes (68.4 percent) for 338 yards and a touchdown.
"He looks like a quarterback out there," Van Pelt said. "He's been solid. He had the nice touchdown pass. Some really nice completions in the game the other day. In St. Louis, he stood in there and took some hits. His feet are in time with his upper body now and he's starting to feel the rhythm of the offense."
Statistically speaking, Flynn is off the slowest preseason start of his seven-year career with a 61.9 quarterback rating in three games, though Van Pelt cautions not to read too much into it.
In Friday's 31-21 win over Oakland, there were three instances in which the Packers felt they had plays drawn up with "explosive" potential with Flynn under center only to have them wiped out by false-start penalties.
Instead, Flynn finished 4-of-10 for 37 yards with an interception for an 11.3 quarterback rating.
"We never got a chance to see those, so to evaluate his body of work and say just the quarterback rating was better, you kind of have to factor everything into the equation there," Van Pelt said. "I think he would have had a chance to make some plays had we gotten the ball snapped. Unfortunately, we didn't."
With Rodgers unlikely to play in tonight's preseason finale, Flynn and Tolzien will get plenty of work. They split reps during the 21st and final practice of training camp Wednesday.
The Packers felt it would come down to this for the two quarterbacks. After four months of studying, both are ready for their final exam.
"I think it is close," Van Pelt said this week. "I've said I think it's neck-and-neck, and I think it's still there. It'll come down to the last game, last practice."
The Packers cut Vince Young, Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman in a span of a week at the end of camp last year. Now, it's possible the Packers could lean toward keeping two backups.
This much is certain — Thompson's decision won't be easy.
"I feel like I've been in a competition every year since I've been in the league," Flynn said. "I'm used to being in a competition and I feel like it helps you perform. I think the way that I look at it and everybody else who plays the game looks at it is you're competing with yourself."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod
TOLZIEN ELIGIBLE FOR PRACTICE SQUAD
Although quarterback Scott Tolzien believed he was out of practice-squad eligibility, an NFL spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that he still is because he hasn't been on an active list for nine or more games in any of his three accrued seasons.
Tolzien, 26, has suited up for 11 career games over three seasons. His eight appearances on the Packers' active roster last season was one short of the cut-off, while his eight weeks on the practice squad used one of his three eligible seasons.