In Wallace he trusts: Packers' McCarthy confident in backup

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Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, November 6, 2013

GREEN BAY--The 16 million viewers who tuned into “Monday Night Football” likely do not believe in Seneca Wallace. They watched a backup quarterback stumble through four grisly quarters of football.

But coach Mike McCarthy? The one in charge? He left no room for speculation Tuesday.

With Aaron Rodgers out, Wallace is in. Case closed. Wallace will prepare as the Green Bay Packers' starting quarterback this week.

“What gives me the confidence?” McCarthy repeated back, sternly. “Seneca Wallace, once you read his bio, he's played a lot of games, been in the league a long time. I look for him to improve with a week of preparation and we'll set a plan that will help him with that.

“I have all the confidence in the world in Seneca.”

As in “Wallace.” Not the newly available Matt Flynn. A broken collarbone will sideline Rodgers this week and likely beyond. So the floor is yours, Seneca Wallace. And, as a source told the Journal Sentinel, former Wisconsin Badger Scott Tolzien will be signed from the practice squad—he becomes the No. 2.

On Tuesday morning, in the Packers' offensive staff meeting, McCarthy said he told coaches it's important that “one individual doesn't hold back the unit.” In other words, the Packers don't trash this offense and scribble up a new one on a napkin for this week's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. They'd like to take a tweezers, not a hatchet, to this offense.

Green Bay is in a three-way tie atop the NFC North. Losing one player can't nuke what got the Packers to 5-3.

“And that's especially true at the quarterback position, and that's why Seneca Wallace is here,” McCarthy said. “We will play offense like we've always played offense, and we will go out Sunday afternoon, fully expect to score points, like we're supposed to score points, and we fully expect to win the game. That won't change.”

As Wallace and teammates echoed after the Packers' 27-20 loss to the Chicago Bears, this was far from ideal. Wallace has been preparing as a caddie, not a savior, these last eight weeks. On his weekly radio show, Rodgers said the backup probably took only four snaps with the first-team offense this past week. Four.

To date, the 33-year-old Wallace has been a new veteran's voice in Rodgers' ear. Now, for the first time as a Packer, Wallace is preparing to play in a game. He didn't last week. He didn't all summer. Instead, Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman and Vince Young all competed and all lost.

Wallace said he understands the offense. This week is about finding timing with the starters.

“It's clearly different for a quarterback to come off the bench than to go into a game,” McCarthy said. “No disrespect to the backup quarterbacks in the National Football League, but the game plan set for Aaron Rodgers is different than the one set for the backup quarterback.”

Monday night, McCarthy simplified the offense. That was obvious by who was targeted on Wallace's 19 pass attempts. The two outside receivers—the ones going deep, running more difficult routes to execute—had only four combined targets. James Jones and Jarrett Boykin were decoys. Nothing more.

With a full week of preparation, the Packers will want Wallace to connect downfield. That was a perpetual, three-year problem for the guy Green Bay wanted as its No. 2, Harrell.

“For him to come in damn near when the season starts and not really get that preparation,” tight end Andrew Quarless said after the loss, “I think he did a great job. He's a professional. He did a great job.”

The Packers believe reps during the week will make a major difference for Wallace, who sat out last season and hasn't started a game since Jan. 1, 2012.

“We trust Seneca,” wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. “He has a proven track record. He's been around the league long enough. We have all the faith in the world in him. He's going to get obviously plenty of reps now to get that chemistry down and we'll be ready to roll.”

In truth, the Packers can point the finger at themselves. The draft-and-develop way works. It's how general manager Ted Thompson built a contender to last. But he never adopted Ron Wolf's habit of drafting quarterbacks practically every April. So this season, Thompson was forced to reach into the August flea market of quarterbacks.

Wallace has been a steady No. 2 in his career. He owns a 6-15 record as a starter. For his career, he has completed 59.1% of his passes for 4,922 yards with 31 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.

Maybe the Packers won't completely restructure their offense. But as McCarthy said, the Packers will try to maximize Wallace's skill set. That may include more rollouts, more of the quarterback on the run. Wallace has 4.56-second speed. Look for the Packers to use it. Unlike Monday, they'll actually have a backup in pads.

And it sure wouldn't hurt to keep riding Eddie Lacy. The rookie running back has carried the ball 119 times over the last five games. No single back has had this many attempts over a five-game stretch since Ryan Grant in 2008.

He's proven himself as a three-down back. Lacy may now become the unquestioned focal point.

“Eddie definitely carried the torch. I like the way he ran,” McCarthy said. “I thought he took a step forward as a runner. I thought he was more physical than he's been in the past, if you can believe that, and I think he has more to give. He's a talented young man. He's getting more and more comfortable each week in our offense.”

This can turn in two very different directions. The 2011 Indianapolis Colts (Peyton Manning) and 2011 Chicago Bears (Jay Cutler) crumbled without their franchise quarterbacks. The 2008 New England Patriots, meanwhile, went 11-5 when Matt Cassel replaced Tom Brady.

The extent of Rodgers' absence remains unknown.

But make no mistake. Seneca Wallace is the Packers' quarterback.

“We're going to have a challenging week as a whole offense,” McCarthy said. “We'll lean on Seneca's experience for that.”

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