Positional Battlegrounds: Quarterbacks

In Part 5 of our training camp preview, who will back up Aaron Rodgers — Matt Flynn or Scott Tolzien — and is there room for both players on the final roster?

Packer Report previews the start of Green Bay Packers training camp with a positional series focused solely on the battles that will be won and lost during the dog days (and nights) of July and August. We continue with who will be Aaron Rodgers’ backup quarterback.

Battle No. 1: Flynn or Tolzien?

Turn back the clock, if you dare, to this time last year, when Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman were behind Rodgers on the depth chart. With those two trading ugly passes and bad reads, general manager Ted Thompson called a Hail Mary and brought in Vince Young. None of the three made the Packers’ roster and all of them are out of the league.

From that perspective, the Packers are in great shape entering this year’s training camp with Matt Flynn battling Scott Tolzien.

Tolzien was picked up at the end of training camp last summer and, in a span of six days, went from the practice squad for the Chicago game to the quarterback against Philadelphia. He was running plays against the Eagles that he hadn’t run at practice.

“For him to come in and for us to expect great success of the kid is kind of unfair,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. “He got thrown into a tough situation and he made the best of it. And he will only grow and get better because of it — especially with an offseason to understand the system and digest it. I don’t think there was anything about Scott that he couldn’t win a game for us other than he was thrown into the mix as a late addition on to the club. Third-string quarterback and, all of a sudden, you’re starting in the Giants game. That’s a tough situation for anybody.”

Tolzien did some good things, including a brilliant long-ball display at the Giants. His 619 passing yards in his first two career games is the fourth-highest total of all-time. However, he threw just one touchdown pass and five interceptions and put just 33 points on the scoreboard in about two-and-a-half games. Tolzien’s five interceptions in 90 attempts was the worst rate in the league; Rodgers threw six in 290 attempts.

“I think every offseason, every quarterback’s looking to maybe not revamp your entire game but you’re trying to tweak a few things,” Tolzien said. “Certainly, I feel the same with my own game, so I’ve really enjoyed learning the fundamentals from the coaches and have tried to embrace it and just improve on it every day. There’s no better example than watching Aaron do it and, certainly, watching him do it speaks volumes to the benefits of having the right fundamentals. So, it’s been great to learn it from the bottom and have that time to focus on it rather than during the season, when you’re really just trying to get a playbook down.”

Coach Mike McCarthy saw Tolzien’s hard work paying off during the offseason practices.

“I think what you’re seeing now with Scott Tolzien is he’s comfortable with the language (and) he’s definitely comfortable with the footwork,” McCarthy said during OTAs. “We’ve changed some things with his mechanics and fundamentals. He’s a tireless worker. I don’t know if there’s anybody in our program that spends as much time at it as Scott does. He’s getting better.”

While Tolzien has the better skill-set, Flynn is the better quarterback. Flynn and Green Bay go together like beer and brats. Some guys just know how to play the game, and Flynn (with a “G” on his helmet, anyway) is one of those guys.

Flynn replaced Tolzien against Minnesota and rallied the Packers from a 16-point deficit to earn a critical tie. Against Atlanta, he rallied the Packers from an 11-point deficit to earn a victory. One week later at Dallas, he led the Packers to their biggest comeback victory in franchise history, turning a 23-point deficit into a 37-36 win. In Mike McCarthy’s tenure, the Packers had lost every game when trailing by more than one score in the second half. Flynn, doing what Rodgers and Brett Favre couldn’t do, posted two wins and a tie.

“Last year, coming here midseason, they put in a game plan for me (that) was a lot of the old stuff," Flynn said. “We didn’t have time for me to go in and learn all the new stuff they put in. I picked some stuff up week after week, but it’s just nice to be able to be here. There’s mistakes that I made on the game tape last year, little things — misreading something or not knowing a guy converts (his route) here — that was different from when I was here. And those mistakes cost us a couple times. So, it’s nice to be here and getting all the reps.”

Flynn was a free agent but returned to Green Bay on a one-year deal worth $1 million.

“Ultimately, it’s great to have him here from a friendship standpoint, but I think he has a really good feel about this offense,” Rodgers said. “He’s played well when given the opportunity. That’s what we need in this league. You need a quality backup and it’s great having him, and Scott’s done a really nice job for us, as well. He’s a really hard worker, a gym rat (and) he’s made some great strides.”

Battle No. 2: Flynn and Tolzien?

Can the Packers take three quarterbacks into Week 1 for the first time since 2008, when they used a second-round pick on Brian Brohm and a seventh-round pick on Flynn? Considering what Flynn did in keeping last season afloat, he is the favorite to be the No. 2. With no practice squad eligibility remaining, it’s 53-man roster or bust for Tolzien. With his arm, intelligence and work ethic, there’s a lot of long-term potential worth grooming, if possible.

“The opportunity for three quarterbacks really comes down to how the third potential quarterback performs and what goes on with the rest of your football team,” McCarthy said on Friday. “We’ve never gone in and said ‘We only need to take two quarterbacks.’ We’ve been so blessed since 1992 to have great quarterback play week in and week out. We all understand what happened last year. You could overreact to that. We’re better already because we’ve had Matt and Scott here from Day 1, so we’ll see what happens. I know I said in the spring, I’m not opposed, Ted’s not opposed, to keeping three quarterbacks. It really depends on the competition at the other positions.”

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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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