In Spring 2004, when Aaron Rodgers was at Cal and Kyle Orton at Purdue, they were counselors along with Dan Orlovsky, Derek Anderson, Jason White and Brad Smith at an Elite 11 quarterback camp for top high school prospects.
“We go way back,” Orton, the Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterback, said of Rodgers during a conference call on Wednesday. “He’s obviously gotten better but he’s always had the legs, he’s always had the big arm and always had that competitiveness. I have fun whenever I play against him and I’m looking forward to it on Sunday.”
Rather than getting ready for his 10th start with the Bills, Orton was supposed to be the backup in Dallas to Tony Romo. But Orton finagled his way out of his contract. He skipped all of the offseason work and told the team he wasn’t coming to training camp because he was going to retire. The Cowboys released him in mid-July, about two weeks before the start of training camp, to wipe his $3.5 million base salary off the books. On Aug. 29, he signed with the Bills.
E.J. Manuel, the Bills’ first-round pick in 2013, started the first four games. However, after a 2-0 start, the Bills scored a combined 27 points in back-to-back losses against San Diego and Houston, leading coach Doug Marrone to make the change to Orton.
With Orton, the Bills are 5-4 heading into Sunday’s game against Green Bay.
“I think what was tough for us is E.J. came in and had to play right away (as a rookie) and we had Kevin Kolb here and Kevin got hurt, and he was thrown in there,” Marrone said during his conference call. “This year, we started to struggle a little bit with some of the throws that we thought we should be able to make. The struggles weren’t just with him (but) Kyle had shown that he could make those throws in practice and we put him in there during the game. That’s helped us, obviously, be where we are today.”
Orton has a been a quick study. Even without an offseason or training camp, Orton has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 89.2. The 32-year-old has relied heavily on his stops elsewhere — Orton started 33 games for the Bears, 33 games for the Broncos, three games for the Chiefs and one game for the Cowboys.
“I think everything’s a work in progress,” Orton said. “The older you get, the more systems that you’ve been in, you can kind of take bits and pieces of everywhere that you’ve been and pick it up pretty quick. It really hasn’t been an issue for me. It takes eight, nine, 10 days to get the verbiage down. From there you rely on your experience.”
While Rodgers has gone on to fame and fortune, not to mention a Super Bowl ring and MVP award, Orton is perfectly content with his career, as well.
“I’ve actually enjoyed it, to be honest with you,” he said. “I’ve been in a lot of great places. I’ve played with more great teammates than I can count and really enjoyed every second of it along the way, and this place is no different. Every place brings something different but, along the way, you always find great teammates, great friends in great communities. I’ve been fortunate to really love everywhere that I’ve been.”
Orton has earned his respect. Before the 2011 game at Kansas City, when Orton handed the Packers their one and only defeat of the regular season, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said, “I probably have more respect for Orton than a lot of people.” On Wednesday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy called Orton “an excellent addition” who “can still sling it.”
Orton has the respect of Rodgers, too.
“Kyle and I met (at that camp in 2004) and hit it off and I’ve always pulled for him with his array of facial hair that he can pull off,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on ESPN Milwaukee on Tuesday. “He had a mustache for a lot of the season. It was even during Mo-vember when he was rocking the ’stache. I’ve always enjoyed competing against Kyle and this will be a good test for us.”firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.