Trainer Helps Improve Harrell's 'Noodle Arm'

How come one of college football's all-time great quarterbacks couldn't get a sniff of professional football? A grueling offseason with a trainer in Tyler, Texas, has helped Harrell answer the legion of critics about his arm strength and put him in prime position to be the Packers' No. 2 quarterback.

Graham Harrell has heard the criticism for years.

He's heard it from fans. He's heard it from media. He's heard it from NFL decision-makers.

"We wanted to change the perception that he had a noodle arm," said Bobby Stroupe, the renowned trainer from APEC Sports Performance Center in Tyler, Texas.

Stroupe worked with Harrell five or six days a week for 22 weeks to silence those critics.

The evidence of that hard work has been on display daily at Ray Nitschke Field and will be again on Thursday night, when the Green Bay Packers play at the San Diego Chargers in a nationally televised preseason game.

Harrell was one of the great quarterbacks in college football history. At Texas Tech, he finished his career as the NCAA career leader in touchdown passes and completions, was second in yards and the only quarterback with a pair of 5,000-yard seasons.

And yet, leading up to the 2009 NFL draft, teams couldn't have had any less interest in Harrell if he had run the option for some community college. Eleven quarterbacks were drafted, including some guy named Keith Null from West Texas A&M. Not only was Harrell not drafted, he wasn't signed. In 2009 and 2010, Harrell participated in the Cleveland Browns' rookie camp on a tryout basis but was not offered a contract.

All because of a "noodle arm."

Harrell, with the opportunity of his professional lifetime in Green Bay after the free-agent departure of Matt Flynn, put in a grueling offseason to put himself in position to be the No. 2 quarterback. For 16 weeks between the end of the season and the start of organized team activities, Harrell worked with Stroupe for two-and-a-half to three hours a day. He went back to Stroupe during the six weeks between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp.

"Over the offseason, I did some really good things that helped with arm strength," Harrell told Packer Report. "That's what the offseason's for: to work out and improve and get stronger and develop in ways that you can't during the season. I think I had a really good offseason and did get a little stronger arm."

Stroupe's four-point checklist for Harrell included gaining 10 to 15 pounds, increasing his general strength and improving his athleticism. The fourth goal tied the first three together: changing Harrell's perception around the league.

When Harrell arrived, Stroupe said Harrell could row 230 pounds. When he went back to Green Bay for training camp, he could row 500 pounds.

"We feel that has a lot to do with velocity," Stroupe said.

Because they're both from Texas, Stroupe knew plenty about Harrell before they met. Stroupe saw all the things the Packers' coaches mentioned last season — first and foremost, his intelligence and savvy.

"Here's a guy that makes all the right reads, plays the position extremely well but is just extremely underdeveloped in his athleticism," Stroupe said of his first impression. "To be honest, he was undertrained in the main areas for a thrower. I was really excited about the opportunity to work with Graham because all the things that I can't fix were already in place: the ability to play the position, have that leadership quality and just be good at football. It's really easy for me to go in and make him stronger as a thrower and put on the mass because that's what I do. Taking the knowledge from what I've done with my pitchers and then basic athletic enhancement for a football player and then mesh those things together, I think it's going to be a really good result. Once he gets the timing with these receivers, I think you're going to have a guy that's going to be an extreme commodity at backup quarterback and not someone that you guys are just having to use."

Stroupe, who worked with Matt Flynn when he was in high school and at LSU, had Harrell working with Major League pitchers Phil Humber, who threw a perfect game for the White Sox, and Josh Tomlin, who led the majors in fewest walks per nine innings last year for the Indians.

"We did a lot of stuff like scap work and shoulder work and working the small muscles in your back and your shoulder that he believes helps with arm strength, and I think it has helped for sure," Harrell said. "Flexibility, as well: We did a lot of flexibility stuff that was good for me."

The results were apparent on the first day of training camp. Harrell threw an out-breaking route to the sideline. Cornerback Sam Shields jumped it, thinking he'd start camp with a splash with an interception. Instead, the ball beat Shields to the receiver. On Sunday night, Harrell whistled a back-shoulder pass about 30 yards downfield to Jordy Nelson. On Monday, Harrell's Hail Mary traveled about 60 yards in the air.

"I don't feel like it's a coincidence," Stroupe said. "He really put the time into it."

Harrell's strong start to camp goes beyond having a stronger arm. He was signed by Green Bay in May 2010 — too late to participate in the team's offseason program — and the lockout eliminated the 2011 offseason. That means 2012 provided his first chance to go through individual workouts and organized team activities. Coupled with Flynn's departure, Harrell has gained a deep knowledge of the playbook.

"I think the more comfortable you get in the offense, the better you're going to look," Harrell said. "When you're throwing with more confidence, when you're throwing with less hesitation, it looks like it's coming out faster. Has my arm improved? Hopefully. That's why I trained in the offseason. But I think a lot of it has to do with being more comfortable in the offense and being more experienced in the offseason."

Now, it's time for Harrell to put it together. In 2010, his preseason passer rating was 67.4. In 2011, it was 75.7. Combined, his completion percentage is just 55.7. On Tuesday, general manager Ted Thompson said there's a "fine line" between being a good quarterback and a not-good-enough quarterback. With the mental and physical improvements, Harrell is expected to be on the right side of that line.

"The games are very important, but so are all the things in the offseason, the training camp practices," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "He's done well in practice. Based on what he's shown in practice, we anticipate he'll do well in the games. Obviously, the games are the best preparation for him."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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