Hundley hopes to follow Rodgers' path
GREEN BAY - Brett Hundley knows it’s a fool’s errand. Depending on whom you ask, the Green Bay Packers have the NFL’s best starting quarterback. Maybe the league’s best player. Aaron Rodgers is a two-time MVP. A Super Bowl champion. A future Hall of Famer.
Hundley, a fifth-round pick, is none of those things entering his second season.
He couldn’t care less. Not on the practice field. Each day, Hundley battles Rodgers like it’s the fourth quarter in a tied game. They are big brother, little brother. Family first, but fierce rivals.
Hundley wants to win every practice. Every drill. Every rep.
Sometimes he does.
“He’s right there with Aaron (as a competitor),” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. “Those two go head-to-head in every competition we have. There’s a lot of talking between the two of them, a lot of bragging rights. He’s as competitive as there is.”
4 Downs: Sizing up Packers' No. 3 QB battle
Let’s be clear: There is no quarterback controversy in Green Bay. Not as long as Rodgers has a football pulse. The man who supplanted Brett Favre is not getting supplanted by a quarterback named Brett.
Van Pelt said it best when admitting he — never mind the rest of Wisconsin — hopes Hundley doesn’t have to play in Green Bay for a long, long time.
But Hundley isn’t exactly the Washington Generals in these practice battles. The kid who rewrote many of UCLA’s passing records has enough confidence, talent and moxie to give one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks a challenge — and then some.
Like last week near the end of organized team activities. In position drills, quarterbacks marched back to the 42-yard line. With an eight-yard drop, they aimed for buckets with mesh nets that were 50 yards away, near the pylon.
Whoever tossed more passes into the net won.
Rodgers set an impossible pace. “On fire,” Van Pelt remembers. He dropped one, then two passes into the net and walked away. All around, Van Pelt said, teammates declared the competition over. His Greatness had won again.
Hundley wouldn’t budge.
“Brett hit three in a row and came back and won,” Van Pelt said.
More than anything, here is the reason the Packers are so confident they’re set at backup quarterback despite seeing Scott Tolzien sign with Indianapolis this offseason. It isn’t just Hundley’s improved arm, which looked lively — if not always accurate — last week in minicamp. It isn’t just his grasp of the offense, how he helps other young players learn the playbook in study sessions.
It’s the stuff Hundley has inside.
Ask anybody on the Packers' payroll about Hundley’s competitiveness — coach or player — and their eyes light up. Most start to chuckle as their minds fill with memories of Hundley’s white-hot intensity. Doesn’t have to be football, they say. Hundley wants to win … everything.
Or, actually, quite the opposite.
“I absolutely despise and hate losing,” Hundley said. “I love winning, but my hate for losing is really strong.”
Outside Ray Nitschke Field, ping-pong has become fertile ground for Hundley’s competitiveness. His legend is already growing. Definitely a top-five player on the team, tight end Kennard Backman said. The Packers have a table adjacent to their locker room, but that wasn’t enough for Hundley. He bought a table for his home and invited anyone who dared.
RosterBuilder: Create your Packers 53-man roster
Backman, a former roommate, said Hundley competes at everything. The two fish on Sturgeon Bay through the summer. Whoever makes the bigger catch goes home a winner.
But ping-pong features the most intense battles, Backman said. As much as he despises losing on the locker-room table, Hundley has zero tolerance for it at home.
With wicked spikes and a nasty serve, Backman admits Hundley is difficult to beat. When Hundley does go down? Not pretty. Backman said his quarterback requires a cool-down session.
“Oh, he doesn’t like losing,” Backman said. “Especially on his home table. He hates to lose. You can tell he gets serious about it. It’s kind of funny, though. He’s a competitor.”
So you can imagine how hard last season had to be.
After a lead-balloon drop in the draft, Hundley immediately showed potential. He led the NFL with seven touchdown passes, was second with 630 yards and only had one interception in his first preseason. His 129.6 passer rating ranked eighth, one spot behind some guy named Ben Roethlisberger.
Hundley’s numbers weren’t exceedingly relevant. Mostly, they came against backup defenders. But it was a promising start. He outperformed Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston and Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota, the top two overall picks in his draft.
In the Packers' preseason finale against the New Orleans Saints, Hundley had 236 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, a quarterback rating of 142.4. Perfection is 158.3
Then Hundley’s excitement was over. He wasn’t on the active game-day roster once as a rookie, stuck behind Tolzien. Hundley watched Winston earn a Pro Bowl nod, Mariota become a franchise quarterback. He ran the Packers' scout-team offense.
Patience and competitiveness don’t mix well. Hundley said he learned to adjust.
“When you’re comfortable,” Hundley said before correcting himself, “well, not comfortable, I guess is the word. When you know you’re in a spot for a reason, you’re not stressing. Everyone wants to play. I want to play. So it’s hard to sit back and relax, but at the same time you’ve got to understand where you’re at.
“My thought is everything happens for a reason. I was supposed to be here in this time, in this place. We’ll see how things fold out in the end, but I’m pretty sure they’ll fold out in a good way.”
Not all quarterback stars are born overnight. If he gets discouraged, Hundley needs only to look at his neighbor inside the Packers' locker room.
Rodgers, of course, was stuck behind a future Hall of Fame quarterback when the Packers drafted him. Sat and watched his first three seasons, competitiveness burning inside. That turned out pretty well.
As much as he’d prefer a team hand him the keys to its offense, Hundley knows what happens across the league. Quarterbacks are thrust into action immediately after being drafted. Crowned a franchise’s savior overnight. Most are unprepared for the realities that await.
Gradual development worked for Rodgers. Hundley said the two-time MVP’s path inspires him.
“A lot of these guys get thrown into the fire,” Hundley said, “and go downhill from there. To have this opportunity to learn — and learn from the best — it really will allow you to, when you do step into the game, to be that much better and ready for that moment.
“Obviously, Aaron is one of the best, if not the best, to ever do it. Hopefully, I can follow that up.”
It’s easy to see Rodgers’ influence on Hundley. In practice, parts of his game have become reminiscent.
After swimming in the playbook last season, simply trying to learn the Packers' offense, Hundley has started to grow his command at the line of scrimmage. In two-minute drills, Hundley uses his hard-count cadence like a seasoned pro. More than once, multiple defenders jump offside.
It’s something he learned from Rodgers, Hundley said, and it isn’t the only thing. Pretty much every detail in his game comes from the MVP, he explained. It’s a smart approach to take.
“He better be mirroring (Rodgers),” Van Pelt said. “If Aaron stops, he better get hit in the back by Brett. That’s how closely he should be following him.”
It’s too early to know what kind of quarterback Hundley will be in the NFL. When asked for his prediction last week, Van Pelt didn’t hesitate. “A solid starter,” he said with conviction. If not Green Bay, Van Pelt is convinced Hundley will find a full-time job somewhere in the league.
When that time comes, Hundley expects he’ll be ready. He isn’t a finished product this early in his career. Van Pelt wants his young quarterback to better grasp hot routes and protection adjustments. The nuances of playing quarterback at the highest level. That knowledge will come in time, he believes.
Hundley will get the chance to grow even more this summer. The Packers will play five preseason games, one more than usual.
“Five preseason games,” Hundley said, “it’s a lot when you add on the season and playoffs, but to me I’m ready. I’m trying to play them all. More reps. I’ll be happy when I get out there and get to show what I can do some more.”
Five preseason games. It is a lot. Better believe Hundley wants to win them all.