GREEN BAY – The kid had a strong, right arm. Mark Elder, usually skeptical with this sort of hearsay, knew at least that much. He’d studied the film. He’d gotten not one, but two lock-solid references. He’d watched Chad Henne – a nine-year pro – while working as a defensive graduate assistant at Michigan a decade earlier, and thought this kid had every bit the life on his fastball.
But Elder had a program to build. Freshly hired as Eastern Kentucky’s head coach, he couldn’t afford to waste time on a transfer quarterback who had to sit out his first year because of NCAA rules. Besides, at best, this was a reclamation project. The kid had a strong, right arm, but all he did with it through three seasons at the University of Connecticut was throw interceptions.
There was every reason for Elder to take a pass on the kid.
Then he saw Tim Boyle throw up close.
“You watch him spin the ball,” Elder said, “and he’s spectacular.”
That arm, along with the right mix of smarts and moxie, have brought Boyle a long way.
He is an enigma on the Green Bay Packers' roster, a kid who took the backroads of college football – from Storrs, Connecticut, to Richmond, Kentucky – and is now competing with quarterbacks who attended Notre Dame and UCLA.
Boyle’s college numbers don’t suggest he dominated lesser competition. He threw 13 interceptions and 11 touchdowns last season at Eastern Kentucky.
And at UConn, indeed, all Boyle did was throw picks: 13 total in three seasons, with only one touchdown.
But since arriving in Green Bay, Boyle has made those numbers look like they belong to a different quarterback. He’s calm in the pocket, a patient passer. Then there’s that big arm. Boyle torched the Tennessee Titans with it in the Packers' preseason opener, finishing with 130 yards, two touchdowns and, most notably, no interceptions. His 52-yard touchdown strike to receiver Jake Kumerow down the left sideline left no doubt he’s strong enough to make all the throws.
PACKERS PODCAST:What to watch for in exhibition vs. Steelers
DeShone Kizer and Brett Hundley were supposed to be a two-man race vying for the job as Aaron Rodgers’ top backup, and they’re still the heavy favorites. They’ve started games in the NFL. They’re investments for the future.
But Tim Boyle, with that strong, right arm, is determined to make things interesting.
“I’m not worried about the whole quarterback situation,” Boyle said. “… I’m not really shooting for second string or third string. I’m just going to run the offense and let the chips fall where they may.”
Seeing is believing
It doesn’t make sense that a quarterback who fled a 2-10 UConn team in search of a fresh start, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns at the FCS level, could toy with an NFL defense. Unless you’ve seen what Elder has seen, know what he knows.
He was once dubious, too. If not for two friends of his who coached Boyle at UConn, he might not have taken a chance. But T.J. Weist, now an offensive analyst with the Baltimore Ravens, and Shane Day, the Miami Dolphins tight ends coach, swore on the kid. They implored Elder to do his research, watch the film.
Elder had worked with both before. He trusted them.
“They weren’t going to feed me bad information,” he thought. “They probably had more loyalty to me than they would him.”
So Elder did some digging.
He found that Boyle never really had a chance at UConn. With three offensive coordinators – and three head coaches, including Weist – in three seasons, each year reset his institutional knowledge back to zero. As a freshman, Boyle ran a spread offense from shotgun. Ran it into the ground, too: eight interceptions, no touchdowns with 18 sacks in five games.
“It was kind of like I was guessing a little bit,” Boyle said.
He was in variations of pro-style offenses as a sophomore and junior, giving him a solid foundation, he said, for the verbiage he has learned with the Packers. After three seasons, the playbook carousel was enough. “Up until that point,” Boyle said, “my college experience hadn’t been very smooth.” He knew he needed a fresh start.
Elder thought the one season Boyle was required to sit out could be helpful. He’d have a full year to learn his pass-heavy, spread system before playing. In hindsight, that redshirt year might’ve salvaged Boyle’s career.
“It was frustrating knowing I couldn’t play right away,” Boyle said, “but looking back it was a blessing in disguise. I learned so much about myself on and off the field, gained weight, mentally grew when it comes to intelligence on the field. So I think it really helped me.
“It was the first time I had the opportunity going into the next season having the same offense.”
About those interceptions
Boyle was no longer guessing at Eastern Kentucky. Still, those numbers. Thirteen picks. Eleven touchdowns. Elder knows how it looks. Now he’s the one swearing on Boyle.
No, Elder says, most of those interceptions were not Boyle's fault.
Eastern Kentucky couldn’t really run the football last season, Elder explains. The coach knew it, and so did opponents. Unafraid of the run game, defenses devised every game plan around stopping the pass – defending that cannon attached to Boyle’s right shoulder. Eastern Kentucky was up 16-10 late in the third quarter against Kentucky. It trailed only 24-14 after three quarters against Western Kentucky. The Colonels lost both games, but, Elder said, they were in them because of Boyle.
Given its limitations, Elder said, Eastern Kentucky didn’t have much choice but to abandon offensive symmetry.
YOU'RE THE GM: Craft your 2018 Packers with Roster Builder
“We were asking Tim, ‘Hey, you’ve got to go win games for us,’” Elder said. “And we don’t have a balanced attack, so we were having to go out and throw the ball around at the end of the game. I mean, when you get into those situations, yeah, you’re trying to win the game. You’re throwing the ball in critical situations where they know you’re throwing, we know you’re throwing, everybody in the stands knows you’re throwing, you’re going to throw a higher number of picks in those situations. You just are.
“So that’s what I would say would be an attribution to that. I mean, we had to put the ball in his hands with at times the inability to run the football and say, ‘Go win the game for us.’ When that’s the case, that’s a tough spot to be in for a quarterback.”
Boyle said he saw the field better at Eastern Kentucky, no matter the numbers. The game slowed for him. He processed his hot routes, his reads and checks. No more guessing.
And he still had that big, right arm.
The Packers noticed. Matt Malaspina, now their college scouting director, visited Richmond this spring. He passed his evaluation up to general manager Brian Gutekunst, who signed Boyle as a rookie free agent after the draft. Coach Mike McCarthy, who’s been around plenty of quarterbacks, noticed one thing during Boyle’s first practices.
“You could see during rookie orientation that first weekend,” McCarthy said, “that he had the ability and the arm talent to play in the NFL.”
Indeed, that big, right arm has taken Boyle a long way. Now that he has learned how to play the position, there’s no telling how much farther he could go.