GREEN BAY - Quarterback Brett Hundley’s continuing ankle problems have left the Green Bay Packers perilously thin at football’s most important position with the regular-season opener a little more than three weeks away.
Hundley started the Packers’ 20-12 exhibition victory over the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night in the 56th Bishop’s Charities Game before a crowd of 74,089 at Lambeau Field.
The second-year man from UCLA efficiently directed a 14-play, 74-yard touchdown drive due mostly to outstanding drive blocking by the offensive line and the power running of Eddie Lacy.
Early in the second quarter, on Hundley’s 20th snap, he completed a beautiful back-shoulder pass to Davante Adams for 31 yards in front of the Green Bay bench.
Hundley, however, was hit by defensive end Khalil Mack. Immediately, he signaled to the sidelines and then departed, with rookie Joe Callahan taking over.
As Hundley took a seat on the bench, team physician Patrick McKenzie and trainer Bryan Engel worked on his left ankle. Hundley remained seated for the next 30 minutes with his shoe off.
At halftime, Hundley put his shoe back on and walked with what might be described as a medium but not heavy limp.
“He reinjured the ankle,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Same injury as the first time, but they don’t think it’s as bad. Don’t have a timeline.”
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Hundley first injured the ankle Aug. 1 in what was the sixth practice of training camp. According to Hundley, he rolled the ankle as he awkwardly tried to throw across his body.
He sat out four practices and the exhibition opener against Cleveland, which he would have started. He returned earlier this week, and his start against the Raiders (1-1) represented his first snaps in a live situation since the exhibition finale last summer.
Given the fact that Hundley has injured the ankle twice in less than three weeks, the Packers (2-0) can be expected to do everything possible to ensure he’s ready to go as their No. 2 quarterback Sept. 11 in Jacksonville.
That means it’s probably unlikely the Packers will play Hundley in their exhibition games in San Francisco and Kansas City.
The injury occurred when Mack started an up-field charge against rookie left tackle Jason Spriggs before coming back inside and hitting Hundley.
“He slipped or fell or dove,” Spriggs said. “He fell and Brett’s leg happened to be there.”
Said Mack: “I was just trying to sack him and when I got close, I got pushed from behind by the tackle. I didn’t know he had a bad ankle.”
Guard T.J. Lang, who caught a look at the play on the Jumbotron, said, “It looked a little late.”
Rodgers is expected to start against the 49ers next Friday, especially if wide receiver Jordy Nelson plays his first game in 12 months. Obviously, the Packers can ill afford to have Rodgers at less than 100 percent against the Jaguars given their backup situation.
Hundley’s injury and the Packers’ unease about playing Rodgers has and will mean a slew of unwanted snaps for rookie free agents Joe Callahan and Marquise Williams. Neither of them is a legitimate candidate for regular-season employment.
“Of the three guys up tonight, they’ve got one guy with one year (of experience) and he sat on the bench all year,” said Tom Flores, the Raiders’ two-time Super Bowl-winning coach and analyst on the team’s radio network. “So it’s not easy.”
If the Packers have doubts that Hundley could function in the opener, they might be forced to add a veteran quarterback as a stopgap.
No available quarterback has more initimate knowledge of McCarthy’s offense than Matt Flynn. He spent the last two months of the 2015 season with New Orleans but didn’t take a snap and has been out of football since his contract expired in March.
Flynn, 31, started four games in 2014 during his second stint with the Packers, compiling a 2-2 record with a passer rating of 86.1. He spent time with New England and the New York Jets a year ago before surfacing with the Saints.
Of course, it would have been far worse for the Packers if it had been Rodgers getting rolled up by Mack and damaging his ankle instead of Hundley.
“Right now, because of all the injuries, Aaron’s not even suited up,” Flores said. “They’re afraid. Injuries killed them last year, losing Jordy in preseason, so they’re not taking any chances. Nobody’s going to remember this game.”
Hundley, 23, was inactive for all 16 games as a rookie behind Rodgers and Scott Tolzien, who departed for Indianapolis as an unrestricted free agent in mid-March for $3.5 million over two years ($500,000 guaranteed).
Last summer, after a shaky first week of practice, Hundley played exceptionally well in four exhibition games. He completed 69.2 percent of 65 passes, generated 65 points in 27 series (136 snaps) and finished with a rating of 129.6, second best in the NFL.
However, McCarthy went with the more-experienced Tolzien as No. 2 and Hundley had to be content splitting scout-team snaps for 18 weeks.
Lacy carried nine times for 45 yards in the opening drive behind the four starting offensive linemen and JC Tretter filling in again at center for injured Corey Linsley. Lacy played just the one series.
“(Lacy) looked pretty good,” Flores said. “That offensive line looked good. They’re the maulers. This is a good group. You’ve got to face a team that mauls you to know what to do.”
Hundley opened with a bootleg left and 13-yard completion to Aaron Ripkowski. He came back with a bootleg to the right on the next play but his pass to an extended Ripkowski was catchable.
However, it skipped off the fullback’s hand.
“The boots were good,” said one NFL personnel man at halftime. “Strong arm. Athlete.”
A few plays later, Hundley pulled one of Rodgers’ ploys when he noticed the Raiders substituting a defensive lineman, rushed the team to the line and ran a play. A penalty flag flew, but officials ruled that because the Packers also substituted there was no foul.
Hundley looked to be in rhythm on a 10-yard slant to tight end Jared Cook for a first down. On the 31-yarder to Adams, he stood tall in the pocket as the Raiders’ potent pass rush encircled him and delivered a strike downfield.
“He’s an impressive guy to me,” said one scout. “But you haven’t seen him run their offense. They’re huddling up, doing stuff like that. It’s not what they’re going to do. Nobody’s showing anything in preseason.”
The 23-year-old Hundley, a fifth-round draft choice last year, completed five of seven passes for 67 yards and a rating of 101.5.
Asked how Hundley looked in his quarter and a half, Flores said, “Like he’s still getting used to the game. At UCLA, he was mostly under center. That’s an adjustment.”
McCarthy was impressed with Hundley, saying, “Brett did an excellent job managing the huddle. Kept us in clean plays. Eddie ran very well and did a very good job finishing runs.”
Mack, the third-year star who played the Packers in late December, offered this assessment of Hundley.
“I thought Hundley did a good job managing the game,” Mack said. “He did a nice job executing the play calls and boots. He did a nice job controlling their diverse offense.”
The Packers were without 13 players, including seven starters. In addition to Rodgers, the list of starters that have yet to play includes linebackers Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Jake Ryan, safety Morgan Burnett, Nelson and Linsley.
After the game, tackle-guard Josh Walker had an ice bag strapped to his right knee after suffering an injury of undetermined severity.