In the most competitive segments of the just-completed minicamp, Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Hundley delivered.
With two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers among a group of veterans allowed to skip the mandatory minicamp, Hundley led the “No. 1” offense to a pair of 65-yard touchdown drives against the “No. 1” defense in two-minute drills. On Wednesday, Hundley connected with Jared Abbrederis on fourth-and-10 for a 32-yard touchdown. On Thursday, Hundley overthrew Jeff Janis for what would have been a first-play touchdown but got the ball in the end zone, nonetheless, with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Janis with about 10 seconds to go.
“I was happy. Really happy,” Hundley said after Thursday’s practice. “I thought today was going to be a walk-off on that first play. I thought we were scoring a touchdown but the wind took it a little bit. I didn’t think I could out-throw Jeff but the wind helped me. Other than that, we finished it up with a touchdown and that’s all that matters.”
Hundley’s growth in the last 13 months can’t be overstated. As a fifth-round rookie last year, Hundley spent the offseason practices throwing one checkdown after another, seemingly so unsure of himself that he wouldn’t pull the trigger and throw the ball down the field. He wasn’t much better during the start of training camp.
Then, in what seemed like an instant, it all clicked. Hundley wound up leading the NFL in passer rating during the preseason. During free agency this offseason, the Packers, so content with Hundley’s trajectory, allowed last year’s backup, Scott Tolzien, to sign with Indianapolis.
“I feel a lot more comfortable, just from the standpoint of knowing the offense,” Hundley said on Tuesday. “It’s really more about the steady growth and the slow building. You want to take those gigantic leaps that were made last year. But now, it’s really about learning the details of the play, why we’re running things, why we’re going to check this versus that. And protection adjustments, run adjustments, all that stuff. When you get all that stuff, that’s when you start taking your game to a whole new level.”
Said quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt of Hundley's growth: “Protections, understanding when to make certain calls, and how it will affect everybody else on the field. That's probably the biggest jump. That, and I would say the footwork from the gun. Aaron has a different kind of footwork than most, and we always try to emulate him so it times up. That's tough for a young quarterback to come in and put a different footwork forward for the first time. That's somewhere we he's grown tremendously, too.”
That growth continued while filling Rodgers’ shoes last week. It was important, Van Pelt said, for Hundley to show “he’s the guy” and ensure there were “no bumps in the road” in terms of operating the offense.
In that regard, talent isn’t enough. If something were to happen to Rodgers, Hundley would have to show he could operate at a winning level. In that regard, he’s doing all the right things. Even with Rodgers entrenched as the starter, Hundley prepares as if he is the starter. Van Pelt said Hundley is watching film before Van Pelt and the other quarterbacks convene after practice.
“That’s a critical point of being a quarterback. For me, a lot of it is the trust that my teammates have in me,” Hundley said. “You know, I want to compete, I want to be the best I want to be. But it’s not for me personally. It’s more for that if my teammates know, hey, if I’m ever in the game, they can look at me and say ‘All right, we’ll be good.’ It’s the trust that you get when you’re in the huddle with the first group that they’re not shaking or worried, or like ‘All right, we may have to go a little slower.’ No, we’re moving. And that’s one of the big things that I play for, and that’s something you gain in times like this, when I get to take a little bit more reps with the 1s.”
Unless Rodgers gets hurt or it’s the end of a blowout, Hundley has no chance of playing. That puts the competitive Hundley in an odd spot, with no tangible payoffs for all of his hard work. So, until the time comes when Hundley is given his shot to run the show – perhaps with some other team next year or the year after – Hundley will have to be content with pushing Rodgers through workouts, drills or table tennis.
“I absolutely despise and hate losing. I love winning, but my hate for losing is really strong,” Hundley said. “I’ve never really lost in ping pong, and Aaron’s beaten me twice. So he pushed me a lot in that. And then on the football field, in quarterback drills -- when you’re competing against Aaron, obviously, you’re trying to beat him. But that’s one hard task to do, and he’s very consistent with what he does. So for me, it teaches me how to be consistent and also bring my ‘A’ game each and every day. You know, some days I may win a few and far in between, but I try to push him each and every day.”
Now, Hundley will push himself. After an excellent minicamp, Hundley intends to stay sharp mentally and physically during the five-week break leading to the start of training camp next month.
“Yeah, I feel really good,” Hundley said about his offseason body of work. “Just got to stay in shape as far as understanding everything and not losing a step with the reads and everything like that and keep progressing.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.