With 14 days until the start of training camp, we continue our position previews with the quarterbacks.
Starter: Aaron Rodgers. Backups: Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan, Marquise Williams.
Coming: Callahan (undrafted free agent) and Williams (undrafted free agents). Going: Scott Tolzien (Indianapolis).
Callahan vs. Williams: With a two-time MVP as the starter and arguably the league’s most talented backup in reserve, the No. 3 battle is what constitutes intrigue at this position. The winner most likely will land a spot on the practice squad, though it’s possible the No. 3 isn’t on the roster — as was the case when the Packers signed Tolzien after he was released by the 49ers at the end of camp in 2013.
Callahan, the winner of the Division III equivalent of the Heisman Trophy as a senior at Wesley last year, will enter camp as the front-runner. With Rodgers among a group of veterans allowed to skip the June minicamp, Callahan took full advantage of his added reps. He’s got enough arm strength and athleticism. Perhaps more importantly, he has a knack for making things happen. Regardless of where he played his college ball and the competition he faced, he didn’t look like he was in over his head during his first tastes of professional football.
“I felt like the last couple of days was huge for me,” he said at the end of minicamp. “It gave me an opportunity to get extra reps, and that’s big with the offense. The more reps I can get, it’s experience at almost game speed. This week, I feel like I’m leaving on a good note. I have confidence going into the offseason.”
Can Williams make up the ground once he gets a grasp of the offense? An undrafted rookie after a record-setting career at North Carolina, Williams didn’t sign with the Packers until May 26 — meaning he missed the rookie camp, the first week of OTAs and a couple weeks of study time in between. “He’s a little behind the eight-ball because he came in so late,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. That meant Williams was thinking his way through the play rather than letting his natural talent take over — not a good thing at any position but especially so at quarterback.
“I’m going to be a star again,” Williams said. “That’s what I like to do — I like to come out and compete and have fun. It’s how much you know. Just going home and studying that playbook is going to help me out a lot.”
IF THIS HAPPENS ...
Last year, Hundley wound up leading the NFL in preseason passer rating. If he turns in another strong preseason — and plays well if he’s forced to play this season — will Hundley become a hot commodity before next year’s draft? Scouts hate the senior class of quarterbacks. While underclassmen, such as Clemson’s Deshaun Rosen and UCLA’s Josh Rosen, could bolster the draft class, Hundley certainly would have appeal because he’d have spent two full seasons learning from coach Mike McCarthy and Rodgers.
“The sky’s the limit for him,” receiver Davante Adams said. “He’s young, as well, and he’s got the wheels and working with Aaron. It’s just a matter of time before he blows up.”
Moreover, he’d have the polish any draft prospect would lack. He understands what’s needed physically and, more importantly, mentally to play in the NFL — despite being one of the youngest and most inexperienced quarterbacks in the league.
“Protections, understanding when to make certain calls and how it will affect everybody else on the field, that's probably the biggest jump,” Van Pelt said. “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.”
Rodgers. Rodgers is coming off the worst season of his career. Entering last season, he had the best passer rating in NFL history at 106.0 and the third-best yards per attempt at 8.24. Plus, he had a completion rate of 65.8 percent. Last season, Rodgers had a rating of 92.7, averaged 6.68 yards per attempt and completed 60.7 percent of his passes. As a byproduct, the Packers scored 7.4 fewer points per game than they did in 2014, when they scored a league-high 30.4 per game.
Rodgers simply must be better. Some of what happened last season was out of his hands. There wasn’t a deep threat to stretch defenses, Randall Cobb didn’t perform like a No. 1 receiver and Adams couldn’t live up to the hype. However, great quarterbacks elevate the team. Rodgers failed to do so. After a fast start, the offense regressed.
“With him it’s always a competitive thing – the expectation that he has of himself being great and, statistically, we weren’t last year,” Van Pelt said. “And that fire that burns in him is what makes him really special, and he’s going to attack this season with a new vigor to redeem himself from his statistics last year. He played some great football, there’s no question. But there’s definitely areas for improvement for him. He always has that fire to be his best self.”
The supporting cast should be stronger, so long as Jordy Nelson returns to form, another receiver emerges alongside Nelson and Cobb, and Jared Cook adds an explosive element at tight end. For his part, Rodgers eliminated dairy and turned to more of a vegan diet. He intends to play at 218 or 220 pounds — the lightest he’s been since 2007.
With a better supporting cast and a better Rodgers, he’ll be in position to win another MVP and the Packers will be in position to win another championship.
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.null