Packers stick with both backup QBs
The Green Bay Packers waived 18 players and placed four on injured reserve while whittling their roster to the NFL-mandated 53 players on Saturday.
For the first time in six years, however, none were quarterbacks.
Instead, the Packers opted to keep Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien stationed behind MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, marking the first time since Flynn's rookie season in 2008 that three quarterbacks have made the initial roster.
There's still a chance other roster moves could be made between now and Thursday's opener in Seattle. No. 2 quarterback B.J. Coleman made the roster last season, but was cut the Monday after the final reduction in favor of veteran Seneca Wallace.
However, Flynn and Tolzien made compelling cases to remain gainfully employed during Thursday night's 34-14 preseason win over Kansas City. Alternating quarters, they combined to throw for 241 yards and four touchdown passes on 20-of-33 attempts.
General manager Ted Thompson had a lot of options to consider Saturday. He could have waived Tolzien and tried to bring him back on the practice squad but apparently was squeamish another team might claim him.
He could have cut the vested veteran Flynn and ate the modest $75,000 cap hit, but it would have robbed Rodgers of his longtime running mate who's been proficient in coach Mike McCarthy's offense.
So he kept both and granted Tolzien and Flynn's wish to keep the trio intact.
"I like our room," Tolzien said Thursday night. "It's truly the most fun I've ever had playing football, having those guys in the room. They keep the mood light and it's been fun in that regard. You spend so much time preparing for these games that you're always happy for the other guy's success just because you see how much time we put in it together, so it's nice when it shows up on game day, too."
Tolzien and Flynn have their flaws, but they created a much more competitive battle for the backup position in training camp than what Vince Young, Graham Harrell and Coleman mustered last season.
It just so happened the Packers' unsettled backup situation coincided with Rodgers' first long-term injury. The broken collarbone he suffered Nov. 4 against Chicago came a little more than two months into Wallace and Tolzien's tenure in Green Bay.
Thompson previously said Rodgers' injury didn't change his outlook for the backup spot, but it must have left an impression. Flynn has limitations, but his knowledge of McCarthy's system allowed the Packers to go 2-2-1 in games he finished following his November return.
The situations varied in the preseason, but Tolzien outplayed Flynn in his four appearances. Along with a 112.0 passer rating, the former University of Wisconsin standout protected the ball better than last season, when his five interceptions in three games allowed Flynn to leapfrog him as starter.
Tolzien, who'll turn 27 the day of the opener, has spent the offseason immersing himself in the Packers' playbook, but it's difficult to make up ground on Flynn, who spelled Rodgers in his first four seasons as a starting quarterback.
What he lacks in flash, Flynn makes up for in his command of Green Bay's offense.
"The system is always built around the quarterback and playing to the quarterback's strengths," quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said last week. "That's something Matt does extremely well is he plays to his own set of strengths. He doesn't ask his body to do things he doesn't think he's capable of and his ability to play around that is something that makes him unique and special."
The Packers didn't announce who the No. 2 quarterback will be, though Flynn handled most of those duties in camp and started the two preseason contests Rodgers sat out.
Tolzien was zeroing in on the job near the end of the preseason. He completed 38-of-56 passes (67.9 percent) for 477 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, while Flynn was 18-of-38 (47.4 percent) for 232 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 82.3.
Prior to his promotion last season, Tolzien turned down an offer to join the Cleveland Browns' active roster to stay in Green Bay. During the preseason, he credited a lot of the improvements he's made to the modifications McCarthy and Van Pelt made to his mechanics.
"Every day you're just trying to get better at something and I'm really lucky, honestly," Tolzien said. "It's a really good coaching staff here and then obviously playing with Matt and Aaron, that's a lot of experience in this offense, so you learn a lot every single day. It's been a great experience for me and I really have enjoyed my time here."
Flynn left Green Bay in 2012 to sign a three-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks, who gave him a $10 million signing bonus. He's still tied for the Packers' franchise record in single-game passing yards from a monstrous 480-yard performance against Detroit in the 2011 regular-season finale.
The presence of Tolzien allowed the Packers to wait until late April to bring Flynn back on a one-year deal worth a little more than $1 million with potential bonuses.
Neck and neck before Thursday, the decision went down to the wire for the Packers' brass. In the end, weighing Tolzien's upside against Flynn's past portfolio proved too close to call.
"I've said it from Day One and it's true ... but I really haven't paid attention to any competition," Flynn said Thursday night. "I've been out there supporting Scott, have never once compared apples to apples or tried to, and I don't think anybody really does in a competition. But I think both him and I have played well and I think both him and I have made an argument to be on this football team."
Apparently, Thompson and McCarthy agreed.
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