The hard count became one of the Green Bay Packers’ best weapons on offense last season.
At Wednesday’s training camp practice – just the second of 2016 for the Packers – it was Brett Hundley, not Aaron Rodgers, working the verbal trickery behind center.
The second-year quarterback was mixing up his cadence like his veteran superior, drawing the defense offside three times, he recalled, during the team periods.
“You’ve just got to act like the ball’s about to come. You have to act like it’s on ‘one,’” said Hundley. “I learned all of that pretty much from Aaron. So, for it to work like it did today was really fun to see.”
Rodgers took his cadence at the line of scrimmage to another level in 2015. Drawing defenders offside with his hard count or catching an extra defender running off the field after the snap created “free plays” in which the Packers often took advantage. In early-season wins against the Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs and in the postseason at Washington, Rodgers threw touchdowns on such plays.
So effective have the free play opportunities become that it seems Hundley has adopted them. A season ago – even after finishing the preseason strong – Hundley was just an observer as the team’s No. 3 quarterback. But with Scott Tolzien departed, he opens this camp as the clear-cut No. 2, displaying more confidence and command at the line of scrimmage.
If he learned any cadence secrets from Rodgers, Hundley divulged little on Wednesday. Perhaps osmosis is playing a role.
“I don’t know, after a little bit of time, I think you just get comfortable with it and you really start learning your own mannerisms and how to fluctuate or raise your voice at the right time,” said Hundley. “All you’re trying to do is get them to think about when the ball is snapped. So I think if you’re speaking and saying things that are inclining that the ball’s about to get snapped and when you say ‘hut’ and it’s not, the defense is always trying to get a step on the offense. Everything sort of goes into it. It’s not just one thing. A lot of things sort of control that.”
Going up against an overly aggressive defense certainly helps. Four of the top five teams in offside penalties in 2015 were Packers opponents. Seattle’s Michael Bennett, tied for second in the league with four offside penalties, was caught by Rodgers in the Sept. 20 game on a 29-yard touchdown pass to James Jones. Bennett also jumped later on a play that gave the Packers a free shot downfield that resulted in a 52-yard pass interference penalty on Richard Sherman.
For now, Hundley’s awareness of what his cadence can do, as it does for Rodgers, is another step in his evolution as a young quarterback. Mastering it, however, will take time.
“You almost have to find your own rhythm with it. It’s just sort of establishing your own,” said Hundley. “For me, I feel like today was the best day ever with my cadence. So, hopefully I can just continue that trend and it keep it going that way.”