It’s one the biggest questions that have hung over training camp for the Green Bay Packers: will Matt Flynn or Scott Tolzien backup Aaron Rodgers in 2014?
With the preseason half complete, the answer is becoming clearer. The Packers need to keep both.
Flynn entered camp as the clear front runner after he came in last season for Tolzien while Rodgers was recovering from a fractured collarbone. Flynn took over mid-game for Tolzien and led the Packers to a comeback tie against the Minnesota Vikings that ultimately saved Green Bay’s season. He then went 2-2 as the starter in the following four games, keeping the Packers above water until Rodgers returned in Week 17.
Last season Flynn clearly had the advantage over Tolzien thanks to his previous knowledge of the Green Bay offense despite being signed after Tolzien. Tolzien showed some promise in 2013 including a stronger arm than Flynn. It wasn’t enough last season as he scrambled to learn the Packers’ playbook but it was clear he had potential and would greatly benefit from a full offseason and training camp under head coach Mike McCarthy’s tutelage.
As training camp got underway this year, all eyes were on Tolzien to see if he’d make the jumps many fans were hoping the former Wisconsin Badger would take. Flynn has always been a fan favorite but if anyone could unseat him in the court of public opinion, it would be the man Rodgers affectionately calls “Scoots.”
With the cutdowns to 75 then 53 players fast approaching, the answer is becoming clear: the Packers need to carry three quarterbacks heading into the start of the regular season.
This would mark a shift for Green Bay, who has traditionally only kept two quarterbacks at the start of the regular season. After the circus that was last season’s search for a backup quarterback however, this move makes all too much sense. It shouldn’t even be a debate.
The fact that this is even under consideration is much more a reflection on Tolzien than it is on Flynn. Has the gap between the two closed? Absolutely. This is nowhere near the Graham Harrell/Vince Young/B.J. Coleman/Seneca Wallace gong show that happened in 2013. It might not be the ideal backup situation, but the Packers are light years ahead of where they were last season.
So with both quarterbacks presumably on the active roster, who will be number two and who will be number three on the depth chart? Well, that’s what the preseason is supposed to determine and after two games the nod still has to go to Flynn though Tolzien has again closed the gap.
Flynn’s experience still shines through as when he is in the lineup, the offense still seemed to respond better to him than they have with Tolzien. Against the Rams, he was able to get the team into the end zone though he only attempted three passes to Tolzien’s 15. However, struggling to get the ball in the end zone has been an issue for Tolzien dating back to last season. You can have the best arm in the world but it’s useless if the ball doesn’t get into the end zone.
In Tolzien’s defense, he was running for his life with the backup offensive line and also was sacked twice against the Tennessee Titans in the first preseason game. That’s not going to help a young quarterback’s confidence when he can’t step up in the pocket.
Keeping both quarterbacks at least for this season also allows Tolzien to continue to develop while keeping a proven veteran behind Rodgers should the unfortunate once again rear its ugly head again. Thanks to Tolzien’s stronger arm and younger age, he very well could be the long-term answer the Packers have been seeking at the backup quarterback position since Rodgers took over as starter in 2008.
He’s not there yet however, and that’s why the Packers need to keep Flynn around as well. Unless something drastic changes in the final two preseason games, look for “Flynnsanity” to prevail over “Scoots” and remain the number two quarterback at least for the early part of the season. Anything can happen once the regular season gets underway and if the injury bug strikes one position particularly hard, Green Bay might have to cut one of the two loose.
Rodgers needs his own version of Doug Pederson, the reliable veteran who served not only as Brett Favre’s primary backup for all those years but also as one of his best friends on the team. The relationship between Rodgers and Flynn is well known but the fact the 2011 NFL MVP gave Tolzien a nickname shows how he feels about him as well.
It’s been a fun battle to watch but it’s becoming obvious who won the backup quarterback derby this year: the Packers.
That’s music to any fan’s ears.——————
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