Backup Bottom Line

Being a backup quarterback in the preseason is a tough gig, but Graham Harrell has made it look much tougher than his predecessors in Green Bay. Harrell's in his third preseason with the Packers, yet his play statistically has regressed rather than progressed.

The NFL is a bottom-line business.

In Cleveland, the bottom line is Colt McCoy has a 6-15 record with 20 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 21 career starts. That's why they used a first-round draft pick on a quarterback who will turn 29 less than a month into his rookie season and handed him the starting job with no questions asked.

In Green Bay, the bottom line is Graham Harrell has put up mostly miserable number during his two-and-a-half preseasons. That's why the Packers must seriously consider upgrading a position that could mean the difference between playoffs or no playoffs, wild card or first-round bye.

Harrell's numbers this summer are terrible. In two preseason games encompassing 18 possessions, Harrell has completed 27-of-51 passes for 235 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.

We could talk numbers all day because we've got several pages and a couple hours of research in front of us. Maybe more than anything, though, it's that Harrell's production has regressed instead of progressed. Remember, this was Harrell's first time through the offseason program and first taste of the team's famed quarterbacks school. For 22 weeks, Harrell worked out with a trainer to get stronger and more athletic. As the clear No. 2, he'd get plenty of reps in practice and the games. If ever there was a training camp for Harrell to emerge, this would have been the one. For three years, he's worked with the best quarterback trio in the league in coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator/former quarterbacks coach Tom Clements and MVP Aaron Rodgers.

No, Harrell didn't get much help in a dreadful performance against Cleveland. The running game was a nonfactor. The field position was terrible, with seven of his drives starting at the 20-yard line or worse. He faced plenty of pressure behind a No. 2 offensive line that features only one true NFL player, Evan Dietrich-Smith. Outside of a couple series with Randall Cobb, Harrell was throwing the ball to a bunch of relative nobodies. Two or three passes were dropped.

Hey, that's life as a No. 2 quarterback in the NFL.

For years, Brett Favre — both quietly and publicly — lobbied for more weaponry on offense. If Favre's first-unit receivers weren't exactly brimming with talent, just imagine the cast of characters catching passes from Matt Hasselbeck and Danny Wuerffel in 2000 (114.0 and 125.3, respectively), Doug Pederson in 2001 (84.6), Pederson (98.5) and Craig Nall (80.8) in 2002, Pederson and Nall in 2003, Pederson in 2004 (71.3) and Rodgers in 2005 through 2007 (53.0, 101.1, 98.3).

Harrell isn't the first Packers quarterback to have a bad preseason, though there was reason to keep Rodgers in 2005 (a rookie first-round pick) and Pederson (his 43.2 in 2003 came after preseason ratings of 84.6 in 2001 and 98.5 in 2002).

The Packers' patience with Harrell is remarkable. Brian Brohm, a second-round pick in 2008, posted a 45.2 rating and lost out on the No. 2 job to rookie seventh-round pick Matt Flynn. When Brohm's rating was 54.5 in 2009, they released him, added him to the practice squad and didn't keep him when Buffalo signed him to its 53-man roster. They took on reclamation projects Tim Couch in 2004 and Akili Smith in 2003 — they went first and third, respectively, in 1999 — but both bombed in the preseason and were released.

Flynn had passer ratings of 86.6 in 2011 (compared to 75.7 for Harrell), 77.7 in 2010 (67.4 for Harrell), 97.4 in 2009 and 100.2 in 2008. In 10 preseason games, Harrell's rating is 66.5, on 54.7 percent accuracy with three touchdowns and three interceptions. In a league in which 7.5 yards per pass attempt is good and 7.0 is barely acceptable, Harrell is averaging 4.95.

About that lack of improvement? This summer, Harrell is 52.9 percent, with one touchdown and two interceptions, a 55.6 rating and 4.61 yards per attempt. Against Cleveland, Harrell missed Andrew Brewer for what should have been an easy 22-yard touchdown during his lone scoring drive. The coaches like how Harrell plays past, dating to his record-setting days at Texas Tech, yet he held the ball too long on the safety,

We led with the phrase "bottom line." In the NFL, the bottom line is scoring points. Harrell has led the Packers to two touchdowns and a field goal in his 18 possessions. In 2011, Harrell piloted four scoring drives (two touchdowns) in 17 possessions — one of those was a field goal in which the offense didn't gain a yard. In 2010, Harrell led the offense to four scores (two touchdowns) in nine drives (not counting two take-a-knee possessions to end games).

This season, Harrell has failed to gain a first down on 11 possessions (61.1 percent). In 2010 and 2011, Harrell failed to gain a first down in nine of 26 possessions (34.6 percent). His six three-and-outs against San Diego equaled his total from 2011.

With all of that, is it any wonder why McCoy was targeted by Green Bay before the draft and might be targeted again? Is it any wonder why, when McCarthy was asked on Friday about Harrell's status on the team, he offered this lukewarm response: "That's why we're in the preseason. We haven't picked the team today. We'll take all four games, like we do every year, and we'll let the process determine the full roster and Graham's part of that process."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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