31 completions on 44 attempts for 480 yards and six touchdowns.
That's the stat line of the last Packers backup quarterback to start a game.
That player of course was Matt Flynn, a former 7th-round pick who developed into one of the most respected backups in the game. At the time, Flynn was viewed as the latest addition to an expanding series of quarterback success stories developed under head coach Mike McCarthy.
McCarthy made his reputation grooming quarterbacks for several teams prior to becoming Green Bay's head man in 2006. In Kansas City, he took Rich Gannon, a castoff on his third NFL team, and helped him turn the corner. Gannon would go on to win an MVP in 2002. McCarthy's work earned him a new job in New Orleans, where he mentored a raw and athletic quarterback named Aaron Brooks. Under McCarthy's tutelage, Brooks became a Pro-Bowl caliber quarterback and lead the Saints to their first playoff berth since 1992.
In his time as a head coach, McCarthy coaxed Brett Favre into his most accurate season as a Packer, groomed Aaron Rodgers into the league's best quarterback, and built the aforementioned Flynn into a record-setting passer and prized free agent.
Yet, despite this track record, the Packers have devoted time the past two offseasons working to transform Graham Harrell, Vince Young, and B.J. Coleman into quality backups and undeniably failed in this task.
No team enters the 2013 regular season having played fewer combined preseason snaps with its quarterbacks than the Packers. Rodgers, who's 45 snaps under center leads the team, will be backed up by journeyman Seneca Wallace and untested third-year veteran Scott Tolzien, both signed after Saturday's cut down. They'll have only four practices and a walkthrough to prepare for the Packers' week 1 opponent. If an injury knocks Rodgers out of the 49ers game, nobody on the roster will be prepared to take his place.
Such a lack of preparation is unheard of during the McCarthy era as never before have his quarterback projects fallen so short of expectations. The team invested three years and two trips to McCarthy's quarterback school in Harrell, who despite improvements to his arm strength was never able to regularly make NFL throws. Coleman, drafted in the same round as Flynn, was expected to make a big leap in his second year yet completed fewer than 50% of his passes this preseason. Their combined struggles forced the Packers to uncharacteristically sign a veteran quarterback, Young, one game into the preseason. With only three and a half weeks to learn the Packers' offense, Young's chances were doomed before he laced up his cleats.
For most regimes, a series of blown quarterback decisions similar to the Packers' would lead to nationwide ridicule. Yet, for the most part, McCarthy's reputation for quarterback development and Ted Thompson's track record shield the team from criticism. Unless Rodgers indeed misses time early in the year before Wallace and Tolzien are up to speed, the story of the Packers misfires will go ignored.
While McCarthy and Thompson are rightfully held as among the best at their respective positions, the sheer absurdity that has resulted from the failures of Harrell, Coleman, and Young is a black eye for the organization. No team in recent memory has voluntarily put themselves in a worse situation at backup quarterback. Only the Bills, who lost their top two options to injury and are set to start undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, appear to be in a less desirable position should their starter go down.
The Packers need to treat this as a referendum on their strategy going forward. With Rodgers turning 30 this season and becoming more susceptible to injury, no longer can the team afford to roll the dice at backup quarterback. The Packers can continue to take quarterbacks in the later rounds, but that should be to supplement, not substitute for, an established veteran backup. In today's NFL, no team can count on 16 games from their starting quarterback.
It's also time for the team to acknowledge that McCarthy's quarterback school isn't foolproof. Certainly, the Packers' head coach can develop talented prospects like Rodgers into superior football players. However, not every late round flier will turn into Matt Flynn, and the team needs to plan accordingly.
With any luck, the Packers won't be ruined by their poor decisions. Rodgers has only missed one game due to injury since becoming the starter, surviving an average of more than 40 sacks per season during that time. Perhaps he'll once again avoid a major injury and take all the snaps this season. But if something does happen to Rodgers this Sunday and a backup with under a week of preparation is forced into action, the Packers will have no one to blame but themselves.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter: @JBHirschhorn
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