When Matt Flynn left for a shot at the starting quarterback job with the Seattle Seahawks in the offseason, one question immediately rushed to the forefront for Green Bay Packers fans.
Is Graham Harrell ready?
The answer was hotly debated from the day Flynn signed with Seattle and through mini-camp and OTAs with no definitive answer. The Packers reportedly at least considered a trade for Cleveland Browns QB Colt McCoy during the NFL Draft, but apparently decided that Harrell deserved a clear shot at the backup job.
Now that training camp is underway, Harrell’s prospects as the Packers’ second string quarterback may finally be clearing up.
The early reviews seem to be leaning towards the idea that while he hasn’t done anything to change coach Mike McCarthy’s mind as far as penciling him in as the number two, he still has plenty of room to grow. With rookie BJ Coleman showing some promise with his arm but having issues with accuracy, it seems like Harrell has the job by default.
In the NFL, players need to actually win the job and not take it by default. This raises the question: Are the Packers truly prepared for a doomsday scenario in Rodgers not only goes down, but goes down for a long time and they have to ride with their backup for more than one or two games?
The answer is doubtful. If the Packers’ offense is a sports car, then Rodgers is the engine. Remove the engine and the car is going nowhere. Could the Packers really insert Harrell as the leader of the offense and expect the same ridiculous point production they have had under Rodgers the past two seasons, especially given the way the defense performed last season? No way.
McCarthy and his staff are the best in the business at coaching and developing quarterbacks. They took Flynn, a seventh round draft pick, and molded him into an NFL starter. This is not to say that they couldn’t do the same with Flynn, but bear in mind Flynn played for LSU in the SEC and Harrell played for Texas Tech. Though Flynn was taken just before he was looking at the possibility of being an undrafted free agent, Harrell has been considered a bigger “project” at the position than Flynn was.
If the defense improves enough and the Packers can finally get their running game going, then enough pressure should come off from Harrell. By moving him up to number two on the depth chart, McCarthy apparently has enough confidence that what ailed the defense and running game in 2011 have been solved. Had that not been the case, then the Packers either would have pulled the trigger on the McCoy trade or at least looked at bringing in a veteran.
Should the running and defensive issues rear their ugly heads again in 2012, and God forbid Rodgers goes down for an extended period of time, can Harrell successfully drive the Packers offense without stalling the gears or blowing a tire?
McCarthy and Thompson seem confident he can and there is no reason not to trust their judgment thanks to the Packers’ recent run of success. Still, you can’t take a gamble at quarterback should the team be in contention for a Super Bowl run. If the Packers are say 8-2 when Rodgers would go down, it would be in the team’s best interest to bring in a veteran to at least push Harrell or even succeed him should he not perform well. It’s hard to believe McCarthy and Thompson would be so stubborn and stick to their system of “developing from within” and potentially sacrificing a championship by letting a quarterback who has never seen action in an NFL regular season game learn the ropes.
It’s almost taboo these days to talk about a starting quarterback, let alone the reigning NFL MVP, to go down like this but anything is possible in the NFL. Who’d have thought Brett Favre would finish his career in Minnesota? For years no one even considered the situation as even .00000000001% possible yet it happened.
Keep in mind this is a doomsday scenario. Harrell could work out in the end like Matt Cassel did for the New England Patriots when Tom Brady went down in the first game of the 2008 season. The Patriots finished 11-5 that season and missed the playoffs, which is rare with that kind of record.
If Rodgers went down and led the team to an 11-5 record, the Packers more than likely would be in the playoffs in which anything can happen as Cheesheads personally witnessed in the divisional round last season.
It’s not a Super Bowl, but given how many think the Packers would be royally screwed (aka destined for 4-12) without Rodgers, it would still be a major victory.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke