Packers' Brett Hundley cementing status as potential trade chip
GREEN BAY - As he broke the huddle, Brett Hundley knew he had a touchdown in his pocket.
From the 5-yard line, the Green Bay Packers had a receiver and tight end stacked to the right, with crisscrossing routes. Running back Aaron Jones was cutting underneath, into the flat. Hundley had seen this play too many times to count.
Enough to know how it usually ends.
“A good amount of times,” Hundley said, “defenses sort of miss that shoot route. So usually (the running back) will get leverage, or the linebacker will completely miss him.”
Here was another sign of the Packers' third-year quarterback’s growth. A play that showed Hundley’s command of an offense. Because before he completed his second preseason touchdown in as many weeks, that 5-yard pass to a wide-open Jones, Hundley called his shot.
He told his rookie teammate to be ready to score.
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“We talked about it before we went up to the line of scrimmage,” Hundley said Saturday night in the locker room at FedEx Field. “I said, ‘Just a heads up, you’re probably going to come out open on this.’ And he got his first touchdown.”
Good for Jones. Better for Hundley.
The Packers' backup has been everything they hoped through two exhibitions, picking up where he left off two years ago as a rookie, before an ankle injury wiped out most of his playing time last preseason.
Hundley had a solid, if also imperfect, opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. His encore wasn’t quite perfect, either. Hundley completed 9 of 10 passes for 107 yards, one touchdown and a 144.6 rating at Washington, 13.7 points from a maximum mark. His lone incompletion was dropped by receiver Geronimo Allison.
No matter, Hundley was walking on air in the Packers' locker room Sunday.
“I feel really damn good,” Hundley said.
And why shouldn’t he?
With Aaron Rodgers’ debut Saturday and Taysom Hill’s emergence, it’s easy to forget this is Hundley’s preseason. These four exhibitions are his chance to grab hold of the future, cementing himself as an imminent NFL starter and valuable trade chip for the Packers at the same time. Few things are more important this month than introducing Hundley to the league with a large sample of film.
It’s why Packers coach Mike McCarthy deferred possession to the second half after winning Saturday night’s opening coin toss. Knowing Rodgers would play, he said he wanted Hundley to get an extra possession to start the third quarter, while leaving time for Joe Callahan and Hill to get their turn.
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Midway through, Hundley is completing 68 percent of his preseason passes (17-for-25) for 197 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 101.6 rating. Four of his incompletions against the Eagles were drops, skewing Hundley’s numbers low.
Without drops, Hundley would be 22-for-25 (88 percent) in two games. His lone bad pass, an interception to Mychal Kendricks when he failed to read the Eagles linebacker in the middle of the field, hasn’t prevented his passer rating from exceeding the century mark.
“He’s picking up where he left off after his rookie season,” Rodgers said. “He had a great rookie camp and preseason, and was hurt last year. The stuff you see on the field, and the stuff we see in practice, you guys see it in training camp. It’s just, he gets out there, and once he finds his rhythm and his comfort, he makes plays. He’s throwing the football well, he’s moving around the pocket well, and he’s continuing to take strides.
“It’s fun to watch. He’s a great kid, and he works really hard at it. He’s a lot of fun to be with in the room, and compete with every day in practice.”
Hundley’s receivers were mostly sure-handed Saturday. As a result, Hundley moved the Packers' backup offense on a seven-play, 73-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.
Hundley’s command has been especially impressive. He hasn’t lacked big plays, completing a trio of passes for at least 20 yards this preseason, but also has managed the Packers' offense and shown the “generalship” general manager Ted Thompson said he wanted to see.
“You’d love to have the bombs every time you get out there,” Hundley said. “An 80-yard bomb every time I touch the field would be awesome. But when you have drives like that, it shows you can systematically move down the field with what’s called. You’re not always going to have the bombs, but if you can fundamentally move the field and take what the defenses is giving you, it shows a lot.”
Hundley’s arm talent was never in question, even after he fell to the draft’s fifth round in 2015. While other pieces in his skill set such as footwork needed refinement, the former UCLA quarterback always could sling it.
He showcased that arm again Saturday. His touchdown drive was highlighted with a 38-yard pass to Jeff Janis down the right sideline, dropping it over Janis’ inside shoulder.
“It was perfect,” Janis said. “It couldn’t have been any better.”
Hundley’s completion to Janis, perhaps his best pass in a Packers uniform, came against Washington rookie corner Fabian Moreau, a former UCLA teammate. That fact wasn’t lost on Hundley, who was still chuckling about it one day later.
“Great coverage by him,” Hundley said. “Great route, great ball, man. You can’t guard it.”
Hundley’s success this preseason has come behind a shaky-at-best backup offensive line. He has been sacked five times in two outings. On Saturday, Hundley split pass rushers, stepped up and found tight end Emanuel Byrd for 21 yards on third-and-13. It was maybe his best play of the night, but a holding penalty on backup left tackle Jason Spriggs wiped it out.
“Really unfortunate,” McCarthy said, “the holding on that third down versus the three-man rush, and that was a third-and-(13) or whatever. So that’s an excellent play. Plays like that are what you’re looking for in the development of a quarterback.
“So I thought Brett probably had one of his best nights as a Packer.”