GREEN BAY — Jordan Love’s answer came instantly. But the greater question regarding the Green Bay Packers second-year quarterback — whether he’s ready to start games this year if disaster strikes — is far more difficult to address.
Love had just finished his truncated preseason — shortened by a strained rotator cuff in his right (throwing) shoulder, but still a vastly better experience than his rookie year, when there were no preseason games whatsoever. And with that 19-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 28, the Packers hope, came the last meaningful pass Love will throw until at least 2022.
So, the Packers quarterback of the future was asked, what’s next?
“I’m going to be the backup quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, back up Aaron Rodgers as best I can, and help him,” Love quickly replied. “He’s going to go out there and do great things this season. (I’ll) just (be) trying to do whatever I can to get him ready for the season, get him ready each week and just do my job.
“Obviously, being a backup, you’ve still got to be ready. ... So, keep doing what I’m doing.”
So much of the evaluation of Love throughout the summer focused on whether he would show enough to make the Packers — from general manager Brian Gutekunst, who traded up in the 2020 NFL draft to select him in the first round (No. 26 overall), to coach Matt LaFleur, to the offensive coaching staff, to the players who figure to be here a year from now even if Rodgers isn’t — feel comfortable with the idea of Love being their starting quarterback in 2022.
If Love delivered a healthy, dominant preseason, the line of thinking went, then the idea of trading Rodgers next spring, in the wake of his offseason feud with Gutekunst, would be a more appealing option for the front office.
And while Gutekunst proclaimed that Love had had a “fantastic” training camp — an overstatement even acknowledged by people who work in the building — the truth was that, by any objective measure, Love had the kind of training camp and preseason any reasonable person would expect from an inexperienced developmental quarterback whose growth had been stunted by the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on his rookie year.
It’s hard to imagine the coaching staff being thoroughly convinced that Love will be ready for prime time in 2022 based solely on what he showed during his 14 training camp practices and two preseason appearances. And even had Love not injured his shoulder in the preseason opener against the Houston Texans — an injury that kept him from taking part in the team’s two joint practices with the Jets and the preseason game against the New York a few days later — it’s unlikely that he would have provided the coaches anything close to a definitive answer.
That’s why the coaches all spoke about how important it is for Love to use in-season practices to accelerate his improvement throughout the year.
“It’s just about continuing learning and growing,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “Year 2, I mean, he’s had just these past two games in preseason. So there’s so much more room to grow for him.”
Love finished preseason play having played 66 snaps, completing 24 of 35 passes (68.6%) for 271 yards with one touchdown, one interception and two sacks (89.1 rating). In practice, he struggled to find consistent success during 2-minute drills and red zone periods, and showed the kind of inconsistency — flashes of impressive play, followed by plays where he was indecisive or ineffective — that most young quarterbacks exhibit.
Still, the coaches made it abundantly clear that there was no competition between Love and Kurt Benkert for the backup job. It was Love’s, period.
In an ideal world, Love will spend the rest of the year running the scout team offense, where the coaches will translate upcoming opponents’ plays to the Packers’ vernacular so Love can make the most of those snaps. Meanwhile, Rodgers will get all the snaps with the No. 1 offense he needs, and — the Packers hope — will stay healthy all year, starting with next Sunday’s regular-season opener against the New Orleans Saints in Jacksonville.
While Rodgers hasn’t been the virtually indestructible quarterback his predecessor, NFL ironman Brett Favre, was, he has been very durable. He broke his left collarbone in 2013 and his right collarbone in 2017, and he missed one game with a concussion during the team’s Super Bowl XLV-winning season of 2010. Otherwise, he’s played through every other injury he suffered in his 13 years as the starter.
As a result, few of his backups were ever put to the test. And the ones who were — at least the ones not named Matt Flynn — failed more than they succeeded.
In 2013, the Packers got to the end of camp unhappy with all three of their would-be backups (Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman, Vince Young) and started the regular season by picking up veteran Seneca Wallace and ex-University of Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien. When Rodgers went down on Nov. 4 against Chicago, Wallace played poorly in relief, then got hurt early in his start the following week against Philadelphia. Tolzien took over and played well in spurts but committed critical errors that lost games.
Had Flynn not serendipitously been cut by Buffalo, the season would have gone down the tubes before Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale in Chicago, where Rodgers threw a fourth-down, fourth-quarter 48-yard touchdown to Randall Cobb to send the Packers into the postseason at 8-7-1.
In 2017, after touting Brett Hundley as a fifth-round draft steal for more than two years, the Packers watched a promising 4-1 start evaporate as they lost five of their next six with Hundley under center. Back-to-back wins gave Rodgers a reason to come back for a mid-December game at Carolina with the playoff still possible, but after losing that game, Rodgers was shut down for the rest of the season.
Hundley finished the year with a 70.6 rating, having thrown more interceptions (12) than touchdown passes (nine) as the Packers went 3-7 in the 10 games he played. He was traded to Seattle the following summer.
Over the past three years, Rodgers’ backups have played a combined 105 regular-season snaps — with DeShone Kizer playing the majority of those (62) during the 2018 season.
When Rodgers sustained a tibial plateau fracture in his knee during the 2018 season opener against Chicago, Kizer played 14 snaps in his place (and struggled) until Rodgers had his Willis Reed moment and returned to the game, leading a fourth-quarter comeback victory. Kizer then played 47 snaps in a season-ending 31-0 loss to the Detroit Lions after Rodgers suffered a concussion on the Packers’ third possession.
During Tim Boyle’s two years as Rodgers’ primary backup, he played just 21 snaps in 2019 and 22 snaps last year — all in mop-up duty. He threw four passes in 2019 and didn’t even attempt a pass last year, when he ran out the clock eight times during Rodgers’ third NFL MVP season while Love was the inactive third quarterback all year long.
Boyle left for the Detroit Lions in free agency in spring, and while his 2019 preseason was impressive (an NFL-best six touchdown passes, 112.9 passer rating), the Packers never had to find out if Boyle could get the job done in a game that counted.
Surely, the Packers are hoping that trend continues, allowing Love to improve behind closed doors and tarp-covered practice-field fences.
“Part of that is him learning how to now prepare to be a starter in this league, where last year he just kind of got to sit back and watch (because) we had Tim in the room, too,” quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy said. “Now, it’s his turn to really step up in the room and have a bigger role in our game plan and have a bigger role in finding things for Aaron on film and say, ‘Hey, these are some keys, these are some tips.’
“(That’s) the mental part of the game, and that’s one thing I imagine Aaron would say in his three years behind Brett, he dove into the game that way. He mastered that craft. So that’s kind of where Jordan’s got to go now. The mental side of it, he’s got to dominate.
“And then when we’re on the practice field, he’s got to dominate and take advantage of all those repetitions that he’ll get against our defense or in those (occasional) moments where he’ll take reps for our offense, too. But he’s got a lot of work to do. And I think there’s a lot of opportunities to grow mentally and physically as we go through the season to help him prepare for whenever his opportunity is.”
Photos: Packers' 2021 season in pictures
Check out photo galleries from every game of 2021 from the preseason through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.
The Green Bay Packers fell to the Houston Texans 26-7 in a preseason game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021.
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