Rodgers, teammates rally around Tolzien
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--The past, present and future came together on the south end of the Don Hutson Center Wednesday, but you needed a scorecard to tell them apart.
Just like the Green Bay Packers’ season, things were askew.
There on the field, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who because of a broken collarbone is now the future, was helping run Scott Tolzien, formerly the future but now the present, through his paces.
And watching it all was Matt Flynn, the past. The former Rodgers backup and Packers seventh-round pick was signed Tuesday to help the Packers get through a quarterback mess two weeks in the making.
“I don’t think anyone will ever get used to that,” Flynn said of watching Rodgers, dressed in sweats and a baseball cap, coaching Tolzien. “He’s been such a stable guy. Since he started, he hasn’t had many injuries and hadn’t had anything wrong with him.
“I think it’s weird for everybody, probably, to prepare, get through a game and prepare without him.”
Coach Mike McCarthy named Tolzien the starter for the New York Giants game immediately after his solid relief effort against Philadelphia. Tolzien took over from veteran backup Seneca Wallace, who suffered a groin pull during the first series and since has been put on injured reserve.
Unlike last week when Wallace was the beneficiary of all but a handful of practice snaps with the No. 1 offense, Tolzien is the focus this week. Flynn was signed because he knows the offense inside and out and could run the team if necessary Sunday.
Not only is Tolzien enjoying the bulk of the practice snaps, he is receiving extra support from his teammates, who know the challenge he faces trying to turn around the fortunes of a team gradually falling out of the playoff picture.
“We have an optimistic mind-set, and if guys are willing to pull together and tighten up and everyone has a got-each-other’s-back type of mentality, that’s huge for a new guy like myself,” Tolzien said. “That’s ultimately the thing that sticks out to you most, that’s most important to me, is that I have the respect of my teammates.”
Tolzien earned that when he came in with no more than a half dozen practice snaps and completed 24 of 39 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Take away one interception he threw in the end zone and the game might have been different.
It’s hard for teammates not to follow a guy who once spent several weeks sleeping on a couch in the San Francisco 49ers players lounge because he was cramming day and night to learn the offense. He kept his clothes in a duffel bag behind the couch and mostly made use of team-issued apparel.
“I was scrapping to learn the playbook,” Tolzien said. “I was working late hours there and they had a nice couch there, some nice TVs, so I figured why not? I wasn’t getting much sleep at that point. It made it more convenient.”
Asked about Tolzien’s frequent cram sessions, McCarthy said he met with the former Wisconsin quarterback one-on-one Tuesday night but only until 9:30 and he has been assured he is getting his proper rest.
“He eats well because he’s here all the time, so I’m not worried about him,” McCarthy joked. “The man loves it, and you’ve got to appreciate his work ethic. It’s refreshing, and it’s good for everybody, and he’s going about it the right way.”
The point many players made Wednesday was that they don’t need Tolzien to be Rodgers, they need him to run the offense the best he can. If he does that, they feel they can take care of the rest.
“If we can give him more time, that’s something we really want to do,” said rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari, who can relate to be putting in a critical position with no experience. “I’m not saying that we don’t want to give Aaron more time. But we want to take some stress off him (Tolzien), make him feel comfortable in the pocket.
“He’s going to have his hiccups. I had my hiccups, too. But hopefully we can make it easier for him.”
Tolzien will have the benefit of a veteran center in Evan Dietrich-Smith, who appears likely to play after suffering a knee injury Sunday, veteran receivers like Jordy Nelson and James Jones and fullback John Kuhn, who regularly helps out Rodgers with protection calls when he is in on third downs.
Nelson said the main thing is not to overload Tolzien in the huddle. That is his domain and he will be so focused on getting the play call right and processing the play, so any chatter about being open or being able to beat your guy would be a distraction. That kind of talk will happen on the sideline.
“To be honest with you, it will be the same communication we have with Aaron,” Nelson said. “Aaron always asks us, ‘How are they playing, what do you like, are they inside-outside, where do you guys want the ball, over the top or whatever?’
“It’s something that we’ll communicate throughout the game and just a little bit throughout the week about how we’re watching film and what we think they’ll do to us.”
When asked about the readiness of Flynn to play if necessary, McCarthy joked, “We’re not going to need him, OK? I’ve had enough of this bad karma about quarterbacks getting injured. So, Scott’s going to play the whole game.”
Nevertheless, Flynn is catching up on a few changes with the offense, mostly in the run game and mostly dealing with terminology. He said he is ready to help in any manner and is confident he could be effective if called upon.
There has been speculation that Flynn has a bad elbow and that is why he was released twice (Oakland and Buffalo) this season before the Packers summoned him. Both McCarthy and Flynn said his elbow is fine.
“The only time it ever affected me was during training camp,” Flynn said.
After leaving the Packers through free agency, Flynn thought he might be the starter in Seattle, but the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson and he was traded this April to Oakland. The Raiders gave him one start but decided to move on and released him.
Buffalo picked him up for three weeks, but he mostly ran the scout team and when starter E.J. Manuel came back from injury they let him go.
Flynn, 28, said he’s not sure where it went wrong, but he swears he has not lost any confidence. He said that he feels the same way about himself as when he threw six touchdown passes against Detroit in the regular-season finale in ‘11.
“I’m always a confident person,” Flynn said. “I know what I can do. I know I can play in this league. Nothing anybody says or opinions that anybody else has is going to affect me because, frankly, I don’t really care about it.
“I know that my best football is in front of me.”