Hundley hopes to show skill set in preseason opener
The quarterbacks took turns going through their dropbacks one at a time, but not Brett Hundley.
Off to the side, the Green Bay Packers rookie mimicked his footwork with each rep. When Aaron Rodgers dropped back, so did he. Same with Scott Tolzien and Matt Blanchard.
By the time he stepped to the front of the line, Hundley didn't miss a beat.
It's that eagerness — the constant drive to get better — that Rodgers noticed about his rookie teammate this summer. Occasionally, he said, Hundley would text his daily itinerary. It included a 6 a.m. wake-up call, working out on his former campus at UCLA and endless hours studying the Packers' playbook.
Rodgers was impressed.
"The mental part of it is so important as a young player," Rodgers said, "because once you can figure out what you're doing, then you can really begin to start reacting quicker to what you're seeing on the other side of the field."
Hundley's transition to the NFL has been challenging, though not necessarily more difficult than any other rookie quarterback's.
The gap between his college spread offense at UCLA and the hybrid West Coast system Packers coach Mike McCarthy employs is vast. On the practice field, Hundley's learning curve is steep. His accuracy has been inconsistent in training camp, his reads too methodical. There is too much thinking, not enough reacting.
None of that is surprising. Hundley was a star at UCLA, but not because of his pure passing ability. His rawness inside the pocket dropped him to the draft's fifth round.
Eventually, Hundley could become one of the better quarterbacks in this rookie class because of his ability to extend plays and chew up yards with his legs. In three college seasons, he ran for 1,747 yards and 30 touchdowns. It's a skill that goes unnoticed in practice, where quarterbacks are untouchable to the defense — and wear red jerseys just to make it clear.
Hundley's first chance to show general manager Ted Thompson all his strengths will come at 6:30 p.m. Thursday when the Packers open their preseason schedule at New England. Finally, the rookie quarterback will face live action.
"I'll be able to sort of show everything I've been taught," Hundley said. "To be able to make the throws in the pocket, but now in the game-time situations I can really show what I can do with my legs. You can't do that in practice. There's no way. Nobody knows if you're tackled or not. It's always a, 'Were you tackled? Would you have been tackled?'
"Now, you get an opportunity in a game to really show how you can use your legs to make things happen."
While Rodgers is expected to play, his time on the field won't last long. Hundley and Blanchard should get ample snaps as they compete for the third-string job.
Thompson made it clear this week what he's evaluating with young players in the preseason. Speed. Quickness. Power. He wants to see how all the testing at the scouting combine translates to an NFL field.
For quarterbacks, he's looking for more than physical tangibles. There is the cerebral part of playing the most important position in football.
"Having an understanding of what's going on," Thompson said. "Whether you go to the sideline after a timeout, and you tell him the play to run, and then scores a 70-yard touchdown — I don't know if that's going to happen. But we want to see the guys run the huddle and manage the team.
"I think that's a huge part of playing that position, is managing the chaos."
Quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said the most important evaluation of Hundley's first game is how he commands the huddle. A quarterback's job is to direct traffic on the field. It looks basic, but Hundley has to learn how to guide the offense before a play, not just after the snap.
From there, Van Pelt said, he's curious to see the rookie's decision-making. Hundley had just five interceptions last season, a trait that will be important to continue in the NFL.
"Obviously," Van Pelt said, "making a good decision on when to throw, when not to throw. That's kind of what you're looking for in their first game."
Van Pelt said he's impressed with how Hundley has handled the learning curve as a rookie.
Hundley struggled early in camp, but Van Pelt has seen the game slow down for his quarterback in the past week. He had his best 2-minute drill of training camp Monday, threading a pass to rookie tight end Kennard Backman down the seam, then finishing with a touch pass to tight end Harold Spears for a touchdown. On Tuesday, he looked more comfortable in red-zone drills.
"To see what he's been able to get done here," Van Pelt said, "it's not a polished, finished product by any stretch. There's still a lot of development there, and growth. The best part is, he's a self-starter. He wants to get better, and he's going to do everything we ask him to help him get better. That's a big part of being successful, is wanting to be great. I think he does."
— email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood
Thursday night's preseason opener
What: Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: Gillette Stadium.
TV: WGBA, Channel 26, NFL Network