Silverstein: Packers QB Brett Hundley's go-to target? It could be surprising
GREEN BAY – The first time Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley drops back in the pocket Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, he’s going to have a full complement of quality starting receivers and tight ends trying to get open for him.
But who will become his safety valve, the guy he’ll have the best chemistry with right away?
Davante Adams? Perhaps. Jordy Nelson? Certainly a candidate. Randall Cobb or Martellus Bennett? Both good choices.
But the Packers might not want to forget about Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis and Richard Rodgers, three targets who have been overlooked through the first six weeks of the season.
Those three probably have played more snaps with Hundley than any other options on offense given the nature of training camp and the exhibition season. Backup quarterbacks get to play some with starters, but generally they throw to fellow backups because the starters don’t play much in games and in practice, Aaron Rodgers gets to throw more to the starters than anyone else.
Of course, there’s more to gain throwing balls to the accomplished Adams, Nelson and Cobb or the veterans Bennett and Lance Kendricks, but one of the hurdles Hundley and the offense are going to face is timing up routes and throws.
It is not an exaggeration to say that it’s going to be a major adjustment for the receivers to transition from Aaron Rodgers to Hundley.
“Time clock,” coach Mike McCarthy said this week. “Anytime you’re talking about a timing passing game, the precision and rhythm of the quarterback and your receivers is obviously a key component of the success of your pass game
“Not only the timing of the ball as far as how it’s thrown, but within the footwork, experience and level of the quarterback.”
To that end, McCarthy had Hundley throw routes to the tight ends after practice Wednesday and included an extended period with the receivers in practice Thursday. He can’t wear out Hundley’s arm, so there’s only so much extra time he can fold into the practice week, which means there will be some missed connections Sunday against New Orleans.
One way to limit some of those would be to work Allison, Richard Rodgers and Davis into the mix so that when Hundley gets in trouble he’ll have a full catalog of plays he’s made in practice with those receivers from which to draw upon. Allison and Rodgers, in particular, are big, reliable targets who may not stretch the defense but have good hands and are familiar with Hundley’s release.
“I had the majority of reps (with him) in the preseason,” Allison said. “It (their chemistry) still exists because sometimes I ran scout team when he was running it. And he just understands me as a receiver.
“But I’m pretty sure he has a feel for all of the guys in the room. He knows our strengths and he knows our weaknesses, too. That’s his job as a quarterback.”
Still, Rodgers has been the No. 3 tight end this season and his 52 snaps represent just 10.7 percent of all the tight end snaps taken – Bennett leads with 69.8 percent -- so, it’s a solid bet that he has worked with Hundley more than any other tight end on the scout team. Plus, Rodgers has been catching passes from Hundley for two years while Bennett and Kendricks just started playing with him this year, so Hundley knows how he runs his routes.
“I’ve been watching him since UCLA,” said Rodgers, whose Cal team faced Hundley twice while Rodgers was there. “Ever since I’ve watched him he’s thrown a really good ball. I liked him in college and then he got here and I’ve gotten to catch passes from him. Once you’ve seen receivers and thrown to them for years, you know when people are coming out of breaks, you know you can look at them and tell when they’re coming out and which way they’re going.”
To date, Allison (17), Rodgers (seven), Davis (one) and Jeff Janis (zero) have a combined 25 targeted passes this season. That is about half of Adams’ season total of 52. They have played a very small role in the offense this year with Aaron Rodgers in the lineup.
Whether that changes is up to McCarthy.
Part of the adjustment all the receivers are going to face is catching a different ball from Hundley. Rodgers has one of the quickest releases in the NFL and he throws from all different kinds of arm angles.
He can make throws that most other quarterbacks can’t and the veteran receivers have become accustomed to that release and how quickly the ball will get on top of them. They know when he might throw it low or high to avoid a defender or throw it to a different route depth based on coverage, knowing the receiver is on the same page.
“They throw a different ball,” Richard Rodgers said. “I’ve been with Brett for three years, but I think we just have to be ready for a different ball. A little bit of the angle. Aaron can throw from all kinds of different angles so sometimes the ball comes out a little bit different. They both throw a really good ball. It’s a slight difference.”
It’s possible it won’t take much time for Hundley to develop chemistry with the veterans, but if you consider that through six games Aaron Rodgers still hadn’t developed a connection with Bennett, you get that it could be a rocky start. The veterans are not going to run slower routes or delay their breaks, so Hundley will need to get used to a faster game.
He also might not be in tune with how the receivers adjust their routes based on coverage. The veteran guys all have their own tricks they use to get open and Rodgers knows them all. The younger receivers are more likely to run the routes as they’re drawn up on the board.
“He’s had more reps with me, Trevor, Jeff, a lot of the young guys,” Allison said. “Just the reps with the veteran guys, they’re going to be a lot quicker. Some of them are faster than some of the other guys. It’s just getting accustomed with wide receiver speed and just his timing with his footwork and our timing with our routes is going to work itself out over time.
“The difference between Brett and Aaron is that Aaron is going to process things and see things a lot quicker, which allows us to be a lot quicker too on the outside with our routes and timing. Brett, it’s more important for us to get our proper depth and have our proper footwork because it’s going to take a little longer for him to process it and understand where we’re going to be.”
Right now, any comfort the Packers can provide Hundley will help. Familiarity might provide more comfort and if pairing him with some lesser-used receivers accomplishes that, it might be worth exploring Sunday.