Insider: Thumbs up to Tolzien, down to Thornton
The Packers made their call at No. 2 quarterback in the offseason when they signed Scott Tolzien to a one-year, $1.2 million contract and didn’t even try to bring back Matt Flynn. Not much separated the two last year in camp — Tolzien actually might have slightly outplayed Flynn — and the early read this year is the Packers shouldn’t be any worse off than with Flynn as their No. 2 in 2014.
The differences between the two are that Flynn is more mobile, and Tolzien is better at pushing the ball downfield. Also, when both had a chance to play two years ago with Aaron Rodgers out, Flynn played better and showed some game moxie.
Tolzien’s game is more by the numbers. He’s now worked in coach Mike McCarthy’s offense for almost two years, and if the Packers are looking for reasons to feel good about their decision, they saw some Monday during the 2-minute drill at the end practice. Tolzien led a touchdown drive that included hitting two big passes to receiver Myles White that were veteran-type throws taken from Rodgers’ book.
Rodgers is a master at the back-shoulder throw, and on Tolzien’s first big completion he connected with White on a back-shoulder throw against rookie cornerback LaDarius Gunter that picked up 17 yards. Rodgers also is a master at taking deep shots on free plays when he draws the defense offside, and Tolzien hit on one of those as well with the game on the line. On fourth-and-10 from the defense’s 35, defensive lineman Josh Boyd jumped offside, and with the free play White ran past Gunter. Tolzien’s 40-plus-yard throw was on the money for the touchdown.
Said Tolzien of the difference between this year and last: “You’re that much more comfortable with the playbook and the guys around you. You can learn another layer of the offense. So rather than just being in tune with the basics you can kind of start getting into some of the depths.”
With Datone Jones suspended for the regular-season opener and Letroy Guion facing a possible three-game suspension to start the season that he’s appealing, there’s playing time to be had on the defensive line. But two days into padded work, 2014 third-round pick Khyri Thornton hasn’t made much of a statement in his bid for a job.
Thornton had a pedestrian camp last year before sustaining a hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve, and early in camp this year he hasn’t looked much better. He hasn’t won in three one-on-one pass rushing reps in camp, hasn’t done anything that’s jumped out in team drills and had a tough time in a drill Monday working against offensive line double teams. Thornton jumped offside twice in the drill, and defensive line coach Mike Trgovac yanked him after the second.
Thornton still has plenty of camp to make a move, but his play has been uninspired, and if he doesn’t pick up he could be in danger of getting cut.
Did you notice?
■ The Packers installed their dime (four cornerbacks) defense, and first-round pick Damarious Randall was the fourth cornerback joining starters Sam Shields and Casey Hayward, and nickel back Micah Hyde. In a 2-minute period near the end of practice Randall made a highlight play when on first-and-goal from the 8 he turned to the ball at the last moment and intercepted Rodgers’ pass to Davante Adams in the back of the end zone. Rodgers ran downfield and disputed the call because he thought Randall was out of bounds.
■ Backup quarterback Matt Blanchard survived a scare when defensive lineman Bruce Gaston accidentally took out his legs on a scramble during a red zone period. Gaston was chasing a scrambling Blanchard near the pylon and appeared to slip when he tried to stop. His legs hit Blanchard’s lower legs and wiped out the quarterback. Blanchard came up limping a little but on the next snap dropped in a nice throw to receiver Javess Blue for an 8-yard touchdown on a corner route.
■ Starting guard Josh Sitton took the majority of snaps in team drills after sitting out those periods on Friday and Saturday. He has an unidentified injury but said the injured toe that slowed him most of last season is fine.
■ McCarthy said the Packers will be in pads for their four practices the rest of the week. They go again Tuesday, are off Wednesday, have regular practices Thursday and Friday, and then their Family Night scrimmage Saturday.
■ Kicker Mason Crosby went 8-for-10 during the field-goal period with the makes ranging from 33 to 53 yards. One of the misses was on a Datone Jones block even though the linemen weren’t supposed to try to block the kicks. The other was a 50-yarder that was wide left.
■ Incumbent punter Tim Masthay had punts of 45, 30 and 42 yards (the final one with exceptional hang time) during a punting period; Cody Mandell had punts of 48 and 52 yards with good hang time.
— email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.