The Green Bay Packers will begin offseason workouts with Graham Harrell as their No. 2 quarterback, and in my opinion, there’s no way the team should feel comfortable with the former Texas Tech standout being one turned ankle away from the starting lineup. That’s why I fully expect general manager Ted Thompson to add another quarterback to the roster between now and the start of training camp – one with a better pedigree and more upside than recently signed former Arena Leaguer Nick Hill.
It’s possible I’m underestimating Harrell the way I underestimated Matt Flynn when he first joined the Packers as a seventh-round afterthought in 2008. And while Flynn showed far more potential than Harrell in his first training camp and made a much bigger jump from year one to year two, it’s very important to remember that Harrell has yet to take part in one of McCarthy’s now legendary quarterback schools – an offseason program that both the teacher and his pupils agree is an invaluable resource. So there’s certainly a chance Harrell will report to camp in late July a much-improved player and a legitimate option behind reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers. I just have my doubts.
Flynn is hardly a physical specimen, and that’s why I have my doubts about his ability to win consistently in the Great Northwest. That said, after two seasons in the NFL, he was superior to Harrell in just about every area in which a QB is judged. Flynn was tougher to bring down in the pocket and he kept his delivery consistent – both in and out of the pocket. Harrell has decent size (6’2, 215), but he has a narrow frame that isn’t very sturdy and he tends to carry the ball low on the move and sling it sidearm. Neither player has a big arm, but Flynn’s deep outs didn’t die nearly as frequently as Harrell’s, and his accuracy on the deep ball was better. And while it’s hard to judge in practice and preseason games, Harrell doesn’t appear to be a take-charge leader – a trait Flynn exhibited from day one.
McCarthy obviously sees something worthwhile in Harrell – that’s why he’s still here and why he was promoted from the practice squad when Buffalo wanted to sign him last December – but he clearly doesn’t believe in him the way he believed in Flynn. For example, Flynn was never placed on waivers – allowing any team in the league to claim him for $100. And even McCarthy’s own words are a bit tepid. “I’m hopeful he can [replace Flynn],” said the coach a few months ago. “I think he’s got instincts and toughness. I want to take him to the quarterback school. I like his makeup.”
McCarthy proved four years ago that he’s not afraid to go into a season with a rookie backup quarterback. In fact, he had a pair of first-year players (Flynn and Brian Brohm) behind Rodgers in 2008. But finding the right rookie is the key. The Packers aren’t going to use an early pick at this position, so Thompson will have to find a prospect on day three. I haven’t seen all the second-tier QBs play, but I did see quite a bit of Kirk Cousins (Michigan State), Nick Foles (Arizona), Aaron Corp (Richmond), Kellen Moore (Boise State) and Case Keenum (Houston) and wasn’t overly impressed.
The one second-tier quarterback who did impress me was Russell Wilson. The former Wisconsin star is intelligent, athletic and blessed with an above-average arm. He’s also a great leader. Unfortunately, he’s probably too short to be a full time starter at the next level. But with Rodgers in the prime of his career, the Packers don’t need to find a future No. 1. They simply need to find someone who’ll be capable of steering the ship for a short period of time. I think Wilson could be just that guy. He reminds me of a more talented version of Cleveland’s Seneca Wallace, who played for Thompson in Seattle (2003 and 2004) and who has been a fairly competent backup for the past seven seasons.