What the Backup Quarterback Situation Says About the Packers

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

After a series of failed experiments, the Packers' backup quarterback situation looks dire.

31 completions on 44 attempts for 480 yards and six touchdowns.

Those numbers make up the stat line for the last Packers backup quarterback to start a game.

That player was, of course, Matt Flynn, a former 7th-round pick who developed into one of the more reputable backups at his position. At the time, Flynn was viewed as the latest quarterback success story authored by Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

Under McCarthy's tutelage, Aaron Brooks became a Pro-Bowl caliber quarterback and lead the Saints to their first playoff berth since 1992.

McCarthy built his reputation grooming quarterbacks at several stops prior to becoming Green Bay's head coach 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 efforts earned him a new job in New Orleans, where he mentored an athletic but raw signal caller named Aaron Brooks. Under McCarthy's tutelage, Brooks became a Pro-Bowl caliber quarterback and led the Saints to their first playoff berth since 1992.

During 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 franchise-record setter and prized free agent.

Yet in spite this track record, the Packers have invested the past two offseason on Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman, and Vince Young hoping to develop one into a quality backup. Undeniably, Green Bay has failed at 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. Only four practices and a walkthrough separate the Packers from their week 1 matchup against the 49ers. If an injury sidelines Rodgers during the game, nobody on the roster will be prepared to take his place.

Such a lack of preparation is unheard of during the McCarthy era. 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 improving his arm strength was never able to regularly make certain NFL throws. Coleman, drafted in the same round as Flynn, was expected to take a significant leap this year. Instead, he produced a stinker of a preseason, completing fewer than 50% of his passes. Their combined struggles forced the Packers to make the uncharacteristic move of signing Young after the preseason had begun. With only three and a half weeks to learn the McCarthy's offense, the former Titans and Eagles quarterback was doomed before he even laced up his cleats.

For most regimes, a series of blown quarterback decisions akin to the Packers' would lead to nationwide ridicule. Yet for the most part, McCarthy's reputation as a quarterback guru 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 largely ignored.

No team in recent memory has voluntarily put themselves in a worse situation at backup quarterback.

While McCarthy and Thompson are rightfully held up 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 leaving only undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel, find themselves in a less desirable position if their starter goes down.

In today's NFL, no team can count on 16 games from their starting quarterback. With Rodgers turning 30 in December 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.

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.

If the Packers are fortunate, this season won't be marred by their poor decisions at quarterback. Rodgers has only missed one game to injury since becoming the starter, surviving an average of over 40 sacks per season during that time. Perhaps he'll again avoid a major injury and take all the snaps this season. But if something does sideline Rodgers and the backups are ill prepared, the Packers 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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