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Graham Harrell runs out of time, is cut

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Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 25, 2013

GREEN BAY—The list runs deep. Mike McCarthy has kick-started the careers of Rich Gannon, of Matt Hasselbeck, of Aaron Rodgers. To many, his reputation is built on the systematic development of quarterbacks.

Yet in Graham Harrell—the record-setting, “Air Raid” quarterback from Texas Tech—the process didn't work. On Saturday, Harrell was released, a source confirmed, in turn making Vince Young the Green Bay Packers' No.2 quarterback.

One day after Young starred and Harrell squandered, McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson made up their minds. A quarterback who joined the team three weeks ago is the pick over a quarterback who joined in May 2010.

Harrell never developed the way the Packers had hoped, and Young has shown just enough. This choice is based on upside, on having a backup more capable of winning a game if he is needed.

“There's a lot in this offense,” Young said Friday night, “and it can't happen over three weeks.”

The Packers would rather not see any quarterback other than Aaron Rodgers take a snap this season. To date, they've been lucky. Rodgers has missed only one start due to injury in five seasons. But that luck could run out. They've seen enough in Harrell over four training camps to finally move on.

After all his lunch-pail work on the practice squad through the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Harrell did earn the No.2 job behind Rodgers in 2012. He knows the offense. Coaches are always quick to praise the strides Harrell has made in the classroom, in the weight room, on the practice field. His right arm is—to debunk one common criticism—much stronger this summer.

But none of this transferred to game day in a substantial way. He remained quick to check down and could not finish drives.

This summer, Harrell completed 23 of 42 passes for 169 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in three games. Through 14 exhibition drives, he led the Packers to only three points. And even that drive began at St. Louis' 38-yard line.

Drops didn't help. But under the lights, Harrell was mired in mediocrity.

“We couldn't get it in the end zone,” Harrell said after Friday's loss. “We have to do a better job of that…. All preseason, it feels like that's been the case with whoever's in there. We move the ball well and we can't finish the drive.”

Young, meanwhile, was able to march the offense down the field. In the 17-10 loss to Seattle, he led an 80-yard scoring drive.

He doesn't possess Harrell's knowledge of the offense. Unlike Harrell, he probably can't pick the lock on defenses from the sideline for Rodgers. At least not yet. But the 6-foot-5, 230-pound athletic specimen poses a much more daunting threat to defenses.

Young's sheer athleticism would likely make a defense shiver more than any A-plus in the classroom.

Whereas Harrell is often skittish when a pocket cracks and/or receivers are covered, Young makes a play. Against Seattle, he took off on scrambles of 21 and 18 yards to keep the drive alive. And at the goal line, he found Jonathan Amosa off play action for a 1-yard touchdown pass.

“I'm still not there yet,” Young said on learning the offense. “I'm still taking it one day at a time. It's a lot coming in. I didn't get OTAs, didn't get a lot of camp in. So it's a lot. I'm trying to catch up with signals and eventually I want to get to no-huddles and stuff like that.

“It's going to take one day at a time and take a lot of work.”

After the defeat, McCarthy didn't write Harrell off completely. But he wasn't pleased, either.

“Graham, frankly, there is some video that we really need to look at,” McCarthy said. “I'd like to see more. He had some tough breaks there with the penalties, but the rhythm of the offense and some of the things mechanically, I would have liked to have seen us be more sharp.”

In six seasons, Young has gone 31-19 as a starter with 58 total touchdowns and 51 interceptions.

To Green Bay, this experience has meant as much as anything. Multiple times, McCarthy and Thompson have cited Young as “a winner.” They value the fact that he's played in the fourth quarter, faced a blitz, has led comeback victories.

So now Young—not Harrell—appears set to be the Packers' backup quarterback.

“He's jumped right in and is trying to learn and compete as fast as he can,” Thompson said this month. “We're putting a lot on his plate in a short time, and we understand that and he understands that.”

Harrell wasn't the only one to be informed he would be released. The Packers also trimmed three from their wide receiver corps, telling Alex Gillett, Justin Wilson and Omarius Hines that they would be released. The team did not announce any of the moves, but NFL sources said Gillett and Wilson would be cut and ESPN.com reported Hines would be cut also.

Green Bay doesn't have to be down to the 75 limit until Tuesday at 3 p.m.

The fact that the Packers released three receivers three days before the deadline for trimming the roster by 15 suggests that injured receivers Randall Cobb (biceps) and Jordy Nelson (knee) may be ready to return to practice or are very close.

The object this week, however, will be to get seventh-round picks Kevin Dorsey and Charles Johnson as many snaps as possible in practice and the game. The two missed a combined five weeks of practice with injuries, making it impossible for the coaches to get a read on whether they're worthy of making the 53-man roster.

Both are outstanding athletes with good size, and the Packers have to find out whether they can help the team this year or beyond.

Gillett, a former quarterback at Eastern Michigan, was signed after the draft. Wilson and Hines both joined the team during training camp.

The Packers conclude their preseason schedule Thursday night at Kansas City. The cut to 53 must be made by Saturday at 5 p.m.

Practice squads may be formed the following day.



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