Preparing Brett Hundley becomes Packers' No. 1 priority
GREEN BAY - There was no ambiguity after the game Sunday about Mike McCarthy’s plans for replacing injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and on Monday the Green Bay Packers coach was wondering if anyone had heard him say he’s rolling with Brett Hundley and Joe Callahan.
Hours after the Packers announced that they were signing Callahan off the practice squad to the 53-man roster, McCarthy responded with anger and frustration when he was asked if the Packers might sign Colin Kaepernick.
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“Did you just listen to the question I just answered?” McCarthy snapped after expressing his commitment to the two quarterbacks earlier in his news conference. “I’ve got three years invested in Brett Hundley, two years invested in Joe Callahan. The quarterback room is exactly where it needs to be, OK?
“We’re fortunate to have a great quarterback in Aaron Rodgers. We’re committed to the path that we’re on. We need to play better as a football team. Brett Hundley, he’ll be starting this week and Joe Callahan will be the backup.”
McCarthy’s task in replacing Rodgers is enormous, and since Hundley has the most experience in the system — the quarterback who can run the majority of the offense Sunday when the Packers play the New Orleans Saints — he’s the logical starter.
Callahan has less NFL experience than available veterans such as Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Matt Barkley, but McCarthy apparently values experience in the Packers' system more than he does experience in the NFL.
Callahan has two offseasons, two training camps, a total of nine weeks of active roster time and seven weeks of practice squad time over two years with the Packers. He has been cut twice, however, and this past training camp completed 13 of 21 passes for 112 yards (37.3 rating).
It’s likely the Packers will add a young quarterback to their practice squad, but their attention is going to mostly be paid preparing Hundley to start an NFL game for the first time. They have less than a week to pare down the offense and get Hundley in sync with his receivers and linemen.
It’s a challenge, even for a player who was a fifth-round pick in 2015 and has spent three years in the same quarterback room as a future Hall of Famer. That showed Sunday, although some of Hundley’s performance (39.6 passer rating) had to do with losing three members of the offensive line during the game.
“I’ve got to do a better job,” McCarthy said of his task this week. “I’ve got to get Brett into a flow. More importantly, we’ve got to get our offense into a flow. We didn’t run the ball very well yesterday. Our pass protection was a negative. We didn’t handle basic blitzes that they came with.
“We need to get that shored up, and then the passing game will come. We’ve got to play cleaner football.”
The Packers spent Monday correcting mistakes from the Vikings game and then started introducing scouting reports on the Saints. Usually they wait until Wednesday when the game plan is handed out to start studying the opponent, but McCarthy wanted them to get a head start.
No one will be busier than Hundley and McCarthy this week.
Asked what the next 36 hours or so would be like for Hundley, McCarthy said he needs to “turn it up.”
“Brett’s no different than the rest of us, starting with myself, so yeah, we’ll spend more time together,” McCarthy said. “I’m going to meet with him tomorrow (Tuesday) night once we get the game-planning done. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Among the most frustrating parts of the performance Sunday for McCarthy were mistakes in handling protection. Hundley was sacked four times and knocked to the ground eight more.
As a result, a good deal of time will be spent in the classroom talking with the offensive linemen about protections, particularly center Corey Linsley, who is in charge of making calls for the offensive line.
“It’s all about talking, it’s all about conversing, making sure we’re on the same page, making sure we all know what everyone is thinking,” Linsley said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
It will be a challenge because the statuses of right tackle Bryan Bulaga (concussion), left guard Lane Taylor (ankle) and left tackle David Bakhtiari (hamstring) are uncertain. The game plan probably will reflect which linemen are in and which are out.
The injuries and overall performance were disappointing, Linsley said, but Hundley maintained his poise and command in the huddle. That's one thing Hundley has going for him as he prepares for his first start.
Another area in which he’ll need a lot of work is developing chemistry with the wide receivers and tight ends. Hundley played mostly with the backups during training camp and the exhibition season and must get familiar with how his teammates run their routes and where to put the ball.
“It all starts in the classroom,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “Those guys in the same room, communicating what’s expected, how they see the route being run vs. defenders, or certain leverage, certain coverages and being on the same page.
“I think that’s probably the most important part of it.”
McCarthy said he did not know if he would re-structure practice to get Hundley more snaps in the passing game or more individual work with the receivers. Since the start of the season, Hundley has gone through all the same individual drills Rodgers did, but when it came time to taking snaps with the No. 1 offense he was shut out.
At the same time, McCarthy prepares Hundley, he can’t neglect Callahan because his backup is now one injury away from being the starter. He’ll have to decide if he can afford to give Callahan any of the snaps with the No. 1 offense.
More than anything, McCarthy said, the team needs to perform much better than it did against the Vikings. The most support Hundley can get is if the players around him are performing.
“We need to clean our own house,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s clear what we need to do. Our basics were not good enough, and that’s what our focus is on.”