Packers analysis: Tim Boyle shaping up as another difficult decision

Eric Baranczyk and Pete Dougherty
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Tim Boyle (8) hands off to Akeem Judd during their football game Thursday, August 9, 2018, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

GREEN BAY - Last year the Green Bay Packers took a big chance trying to slip Taysom Hill through to their practice squad, and it blew up on them when the New Orleans Saints claimed the young quarterback.

Based on what we saw of undrafted rookie Tim Boyle on Thursday night, the Packers could face a similar decision at final cuts this year.

You don’t want to overstate the case after one preseason game. But Boyle showed he’s far more talented than previous Packers developmental quarterbacks such as Joe Callahan. And while we’re not quite ready to say Boyle is as good a prospect as Hill — Hill can spin the ball too, and is a big-time athlete with a 4.46-second 40 — that’s subject to change over the final three preseason games.

At minimum, Boyle already looks worth trying to develop on the practice squad as a possible future No. 2. And the possibility of him sticking on the final 53 is at least on the table now. That would have sounded absurd when the Packers signed him out of Eastern Kentucky after the draft.

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What’s hard to reconcile is how Boyle bombed in eight starts over three seasons at UConn, then transferred to Eastern Kentucky where as a starter last year he threw 11 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. How does that jibe with the guy who in four full series against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night put up 17 points and a 116.7 rating, and threw several darts while displaying poise and pocket presence?

Our Tom Silverstein answered some of these questions in a story on Boyle last spring. In an indication of his physical talent, Boyle was offered scholarships by powerhouses Michigan, Florida, Notre Dame, and Oregon, along with Boston College coming out of high school in Connecticut. He chose Boston College, but after a coaching change de-committed and went to UConn.

He went through three offensive coordinators in three years at UConn, then another at Eastern Kentucky. So maybe instability played a role in his struggles. Boyle also told Silverstein that while six of his interceptions at Eastern Kentucky were bad decisions, the other seven were odd circumstances such as passes deflecting off receivers’ hands.

But if it was easy to dismiss Boyle as a prospect when the Packers signed him, it’s now looking like a case of good scouting looking past the numbers. In the offseason Boyle showed he has a big-league arm, and then in the first two weeks of training camp he built off that by displaying the ability to stand in the pocket and sling the ball. Of course, he’s had his shaky moments, too, such as in practice Monday when in two-minute he moved into the red zone and then threw four straight incompletions.

Against Tennessee he stood tall — he’s 6-3 1/8, 233 pounds — and threw more than his share of darts. He had some misfires — he airmailed two incompletions and underthrew what should have been a 23-yard touchdown to Jake Kumerow. But he also was the victim of at least three drops, and while his arm strength was apparent, what jumped out most was his poise.

Boyle looked like an NFL quarterback standing in the pocket and getting the ball out just as the rush came.

He also looked comfortable carrying out fakes and on bootlegs. With a lot of young quarterbacks, their footwork breaks down when they scramble or get outside the pocket, but Boyle’s didn’t. If you remember with Callahan, it always looked like a jail break with him bolting the pocket and running around trying to make something happen. Not with this guy. He plays in the pocket like an NFL quarterback and is a far superior prospect.

He’s also a better athlete than he might appear. His workout numbers aren’t all that different than Aaron Rodgers’, for instance. Rodgers tested a tad faster (4.71-second 40 to Boyle’s 4.77; Rodgers, by the way, insists he ran 4.66) and the short shuttle (4.32 seconds to 4.49). Boyle was slightly better in the vertical (35½ inches to 34½ inches), broad jump (9-feet-9 to 9-2) and three cone (7.03 seconds to 7.38).

That doesn’t mean Boyle is as good an athlete as Rodgers, and it certainly doesn’t mean he can make all the creative and accurate throws Rodgers makes outside the pocket. But it suggests Boyle has some athletic ability to work with, even if he plays the game as a pocket passer.

Now, maybe Boyle will struggle in the next three preseason games. He played against Tennessee’s third stringers, unlike Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer, who were going against the 1s and 2s. Maybe if Boyle gets to step up in competition in the next three weeks, the game will move too fast for him. Or maybe he’ll become an interception machine the more he plays.

Boyle doesn’t get a lot of snaps in practice, but no big red flags have popped up yet. He’ has had his share of plays on the practice field that looked a lot like Thursday night, along with some rookie struggles as well. Either way, it sure looks like the Packers have a backup quarterback prospect they can work with here.

Low throws

The Packers’ three drafted receivers — Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimious St. Brown and J’Mon Moore — flashed the ability Thursday that makes them interesting prospects because of their size. Valdes-Scantling (five catches, 101 yards and one touchdown) especially showed the combination of size and speed that makes him the most talented of the three.

But we also saw why rookie receivers have trouble making a big impact in the NFL, and why it will be difficult for any of the three to play major roles with the Packers this season, even if all make the roster and contribute to some degree.

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There are a few abilities on which they all need work.

One is digging out the low throw. Jordy Nelson was the master at that. Third-year pro Geronimo Allison made a tough low catch Thursday night that showed why he’s a lock to make the team and probably be the No. 3 receiver. But none of the rookies came up with a low throw when given the chance.

Another is the contested catch. Davante Adams struggled with that his first year, really his first two, but that’s now one of his strengths. He goes and gets the ball with his hands on contested throws. Valdes-Scantling and Moore, especially, missed several chances against Tennessee.

And the third is creating space. That’s not the same as creating separation, which happens when a receiver beats a cornerback at the line of scrimmage or runs past him downfield. Creating space is using your body to bump a cover man for a few strides, then leaning away as the ball is thrown.

Adams also excels in that area. But those subtle skills usually take a year or more to learn.

Extra points

» Third-round pick Oren Burks had a promising first game at inside linebacker. He looked athletic and heady, and he strikes a good blow for a 233-pounder.

» Third-year pro Kyler Fackrell didn’t show anything more as a pass rusher than he has in the past. He’s long and fast, so he can chase down the quarterback on scrambles. But when the passer is in the pocket, Fackrell still gets stuck on his blocker.

» Conor Sheehy, the undrafted free-agent defensive lineman from Wisconsin, looks like he has a chance to make the practice squad. He’s a worker who finds a way to make things happen and doesn’t give up until the whistle.

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