GREEN BAY - He’s a football junkie at heart. Comes with playing quarterback. Brett Hundley's fascination with offenses has followed him everywhere.
It didn’t stop when the Green Bay Packers drafted him. Yes, Hundley buried his nose in coach Mike McCarthy’s playbook, gaining proficiency in the hybrid West Coast offense Aaron Rodgers made his own. This was Hundley’s job.
His hobby, that fascination, was staying updated on how offenses around the league worked.
“In the offseason,” Hundley said, “I’m looking around and just checking out. I like watching football, so just watching the games and seeing what (other teams) are doing.”
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It’s the fine line Hundley has balanced since his career took this trajectory as a fifth-round draft pick in 2015. Right away, Hundley knew two things to be true: He was starting his career as a backup, and his eventual starting job would come in another offense.
Hundley, starting Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, arrives at the most critical crossroads in his young career. These next four exhibition games are his showcase. On the line is his immediate future. Ace this test, and Hundley becomes a hot commodity in a league starved for franchise quarterbacks, a valuable trade chip for the Packers entering next offseason.
A strong August is Hundley’s ticket, he knows. He's never stopped preparing for his starting job.
Yet the key to success will be Hundley’s mastery of McCarthy’s offense.
“You’ve got to throw it,” general manager Ted Thompson said, “but I like to see the generalship. I like to see him run the show, take charge, be exact. And if somebody’s lined up in the wrong spot, I like to see him get him moved, like Aaron does in the game. He’s very precise in that regard. But play quarterback, be a leader.”
There’s a reason Hundley slipped to the fifth round. From UCLA’s spread offense, he arrived in Green Bay a project. Raw, but full of potential.
He trains without a personal coach in the offseason. Hundley's goal, he said, is to prevent outside critique from diluting the tutelage he receives from the Packers. While Hundley works in obscurity, his public exposure limited to only a few preseason snaps and regular-season mop-up duty, Packers quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said he has seen Hundley grow each offseason.
Hundley’s biggest improvement hasn’t been his arm, but rather his feet. Proper footwork is foundational to a quarterback’s accuracy, providing the platform to locate passes with precision.
“It’s his footwork,” Van Pelt said, “and his feel for the rhythm of the pass game, and where his feet need to be and how it dictates where he is in his progression. He’s really starting to trust his feet and working through progressions with the proper footwork. That’s probably the biggest stride he’s made.”
With Rodgers likely skipping most of the preseason, Hundley should get plenty of snaps to show how far he’s come. There is, of course, the other possibility.
Hundley’s showcase was supposed to come last preseason. After leading the NFL with seven preseason touchdown passes as a rookie, anticipation was high for the backup quarterback. The Packers’ appearance in the Hall of Fame Game meant Hundley could play even more than usual.
Instead, a sprained ankle limited Hundley to one exhibition game. He hopes history doesn’t repeat this month.
“Right now,” Hundley said, “I’m just focused on studying, being ready for this game, studying the game plan. I could really care less about what happened last year at this point. It’s like, all right, I’m going to go out there and play. If something happens, something happens. Knock on wood. At the same time, if you think of all the past stuff, it does tend to wear you down. And you can’t have that going into games.
“My thought right now is, ‘What happened, happened.’ Screw everything, the injuries. No matter what, go out and go have fun. Let’s sling it around a little bit.”