GREEN BAY - He played 20 preseason snaps. If it wasn’t for 13 of them, Brett Hundley might be nervous.
In his first preseason as the Green Bay Packers' primary backup quarterback, Hundley expected an extensive dress rehearsal. That’s all he got. Twenty snaps. Not even two full quarters.
Even with a left ankle injury limiting his playing time, the former fifth-round pick believes he showed enough on a 13-play, opening touchdown drive against the Oakland Raiders to prove he’s ready for his new role.
“That, to me, really helped me calm myself as far as when I got injured again and I knew I wasn’t going to play," Hundley said. "That, itself, sort of allowed me to be relaxed and understand that I know where I’m at. I wanted to know I could still play at that level I was last year, and I felt like I did that.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he expects Hundley to be available Sunday for the regular-season opener in Jacksonville, should he be needed. Joe Callahan’s inclusion on the 53-man roster didn’t reflect concerns over Hundley’s readiness, McCarthy said Monday. Regardless, it’s easy to see how Hundley’s missed snaps directly led to Callahan earning a job.
“I thought this (preseason) was going to be the Brett Hundley show,” McCarthy said, “as far as the opportunities Brett was going to get. That was the design of it. That was what we were looking for, especially with five games. I thought Brett was going to get a ton of work this preseason, and, frankly, it went to Joe.”
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Callahan used his extra snaps to become the second-biggest surprise from the Packers’ cut-down weekend — behind only left guard Josh Sitton’s release — and the most unexpected roster addition.
A third quarterback would have been a luxury if not for Hundley’s lost preseason. Callahan arrived in Green Bay this May as an undrafted rookie. He came from tiny Wesley College, a Division III program. McCarthy said his quarterback’s jump to the active roster was an ultimate example of how any player can earn a job.
“This is just clearly Joe Callahan earning the job,” McCarthy said. “I mean, how the hell does he not make the team? It was clear. Just watch the game, watch the video. I’m very, very happy for him personally because you always like to see a guy grab hold of an opportunity. I thought it was very obvious what he accomplished during the preseason.”
Hundley's accomplishments were limited by the ankle injury, but there was that 13-play drive against the Raiders.
Hundley threw five passes on that touchdown drive. Completed three of them. Just 29 yards. A year ago, he led the NFL with seven touchdown passes and was second with 630 yards in the preseason.
This preseason, he threw for less than 100 yards. No touchdowns.
Stats don’t reveal everything in football, especially for quarterbacks. There are many nuances at the position, intangibles a player must master. Hundley said the touchdown drive highlighted his control of the offense. He read the defense correctly. Checked into the right plays. Knew where to throw the football.
The game, Hundley said, felt slower than a year ago.
“I’m still practicing,” Hundley said. “Still getting out there. Still learning. I think if you can take that approach, it’s the mental part of it that you have to jump. That’s where I feel like I’ve made my jump.”
For young quarterbacks, there is no adequate substitution for live snaps against a different opponent. The Packers believe Hundley is ready to be Rodgers’ primary backup, but it’s no coincidence they adjusted and kept three quarterbacks on their active roster.
With one major difference, Callahan’s drive for a roster spot was not unlike Hundley’s as a rookie. Though Hundley had a better chance of cracking the roster as a renowned college quarterback and fifth-round pick,nothing was guaranteed. Hundley entered a quarterback situation last season that was already settled at the top, with Scott Tolzien serving as Rodgers’ backup.
Hundley forced his way onto the roster with a stellar preseason, improving vastly from his first practice in organized team activities.
There was no competition to be Rodgers’ primary backup after Tolzien signed with the Indianapolis Colts this offseason. The job fell to Hundley. Callahan, at best, was expected to compete for a spot on the practice squad.
Instead, he improved vastly from OTAs, completing 54-of-88 passes (61.4 percent) for 499 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and an 88.2 rating this preseason. He performed even behind a leaky offensive line. In four exhibitions, Callahan was sacked 10 times.
“He got better each day,” McCarthy said. “You think about the first time he stepped in the huddle in the OTAs to now. He’s a very good football player. It showed in what he accomplished in college, regardless of where he played. He gets more and more comfortable, and I just think he’s a heck of a football player.”
So the Packers will enter their regular-season opener with three quarterbacks on their roster for the third straight year. In 2014, it was Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien behind Rodgers.
In the future, Hundley is expected to become nice trade bait. In the best-case scenario, the Packers could swap the fifth-round pick they used on Hundley to earn a first- or second-round pick. Now, Callahan is available to be Rodgers’ top backup, potentially replacing Hundley in the future like Hundley replaced Tolzien.
That won’t matter this week. If Rodgers leaves the field in Jacksonville, Hundley will leave the sideline.
“I feel ready,” Hundley said. “I mean, I think I was happy about being able to get out there for Oakland, and that really helped my confidence to get out there and sort of put a drive together. … Those things are sort of the things I wanted to see, getting back out there.
“I feel like from last year, I’m even better footwork-wise, mentally and physically. I just feel ready.”