Dougherty: Behind the scenes with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers' rookie understudy Tim Boyle
Almost every Wednesday during the Green Bay Packers’ season, 20 or so journalists crowd around Aaron Rodgers’ locker for the quarterback’s midweek media session.
And almost every Wednesday, Tim Boyle, the Packers’ rookie third-string quarterback, stands at the edges watching and listening.
“You’d be stupid not to take a step back and listen to one of the best players to ever play the position,” said Boyle in a recent, extended interview. “How he conducts himself around the building, how he is on the field, what he says to the media. You try to replicate that. Obviously, you want to have your own twist on your story and your life, but you try to emulate guys of that stature.”
Eavesdropping on Rodgers is a small part of Boyle’s Year 1 curriculum on how to be an NFL quarterback. Boyle, who won a spot on the Packers’ 53-man roster as one of the biggest surprises of their training camp, has the rare opportunity of learning from one of the game’s best.
The work that goes into developing Boyle is one of the important but behind-the-scenes parts of an NFL season that gets lost while the team is trying to win games. But it could pay big dividends for the Packers a year or two down the road.
Though it’s a long trip from being an undrafted rookie to becoming a viable backup quarterback in the league, Boyle at least showed the potential in camp. And if by chance he becomes not just a backup but one that can keep the team competitive when Rodgers can’t play, the Packers will have filled an important position for two or three seasons without even spending a draft pick. That’s found money in the NFL.
Boyle has a chance in part because of his throwing arm, which is strong even by NFL standards, and prototypical NFL size (6-feet-4 and 232 pounds). But he also has a temperamental quality that Tramon Williams, the Packers’ most veteran defensive back, saw in the preseason.
“The thing that jumped out for me is … when (Boyle) got in the game he wasn’t scared,” Williams said. “He made the throws he had to make. I thought he had a really good preseason. He opened the eyes of a lot of people. I don’t think we usually (keep three quarterbacks) very often.”
PACKERS' NEXT OPPONENT: Crucial rematch vs. Vikings
While Rodgers prepares to play each week, Boyle as the No. 3 is learning the NFL’s ropes. He attends all position, offense and team meetings and film sessions, helps with weekly scouting reports, does essentially the same daily workouts as Rodgers and takes part in practice, though in a limited role.
“If I string together a couple bad weeks I’m not guaranteed to be here anymore,” Boyle said. “So I go into every practice saying I have to earn my respect on the team with my teammates, the front office, and make sure I earn my spot on the team.
“The biggest thing is approaching it like it’s your full-time job, which it is. It’s not more demanding. You do it because you love it. I’m not here because they’re forcing me to. I want to watch film on my own, I want to help Aaron win games. It’s fun for us.”
In a typical week, Monday morning is devoted to watching every snap on offense from the previous day’s game video. Boyle gets to hear what the quarterback was thinking on why he did or didn’t change a play and where he went with his throws.
Boyle takes notes and occasionally refers to them a week or two later, though just the act of writing is usually enough to cement them in his memory.
“Trying to connect the dots as to why he did things in the game that maybe I didn’t see on Sunday when he actually did it,” Boyle said.
After that, there’s a brisk weightlifting session followed by an introduction to the next opponent.
Tuesday is the players’ official day off, but everyone works. Among the backup quarterbacks’ duties is preparing a scouting report on the defensive backs Rodgers will face that week. No. 2 quarterback DeShone Kizer breaks down the cornerbacks, Boyle the safeties.
They watch three or four games and from their iPads they put together a power point presentation including game video highlighting the players’ tendencies. They show it to Rodgers on Wednesday mornings.
“How (the defensive backs) play,” Boyle said, “what kind of balls they don’t like playing, what kind of balls they do like playing, what’s their leverage, in this coverage if he’s in this spot he’s going to do this. It’s more just to help him out so he can expedite the process of studying. He can get more into the game plan instead of having to watch the technique. We kind of do that work for him.”
To make things a little more enjoyable, they also come up with fun facts about the opponent’s city and franchise, and sometimes quiz Rodgers. For instance, before the Packers played the Los Angeles Rams, one of Boyle’s fun facts was that the Rams joined the NFL in 1937 in Cleveland.
“Fun facts, most of them he knows,” Boyle said. “He didn’t know (Cleveland).”
After a workout and meetings Wednesday morning comes the first practice of the week. The quarterbacks do the same drill work, but in the team portion, when they practice the game plan, Rodgers’ takes all the snaps with the offense working against the scout-team defense. Kizer and Boyle then split snaps with the scout-team offense against the Packers’ defense.
Because of Rodgers’ sprained knee, Boyle for much of this season got more work than usual for a No. 3. For the first half of the season, Rodgers either didn’t practice or was limited on Wednesdays, which meant Boyle split snaps with Kizer. Now Rodgers is back practicing all week, so the backups get only scout-team work, which they review on video after practice.
“The highlight of my day is to go out there and try to slice up the defense,” Boyle said.
Thursdays are similar to Wednesdays but with different game-plan emphases — throughout the week they have to get through the game plan for normal down and distance, third down, red zone, plus all the sub-groups of those situations. There’s also goal line, two minute, backed up and short yardage.
On Thursday nights, the quarterbacks and offensive linemen eat at a local restaurant. The bill rotates weekly.
“When you have a relationship off the field, then sometimes the relationship on the field is better, I’ve learned that,” Boyle said.
Among Boyle’s extra work late in the week is rehearsing the game plan in the Packers’ instructional facility (the CRIC) near the team’s locker room. Quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti tells Boyle and Kizer the play and defensive coverage. The quarterbacks drop back, visualize the routes and throw.
It’s all part of the physical and mental training to get Boyle ready for the real test, which is next offseason, when he will try to beat out Kizer for the No. 2 job.
And who knows what else might be down the road? There’s a reason Boyle watches how Rodgers’ conducts himself, whether it’s in meetings, around teammates, or when in front of reporters.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to learn behind Aaron for a while, and we’ll see what happens,” Boyle said. “I don’t make those decisions. But I could see myself being a starter in the NFL. Yes.”