No need for backup: Green Bay Packers have two decades worth of durable quarterbacks
Bob McGinn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 21, 2013
Lynn Dickey suffered a separated right shoulder in 1976 and then a broken leg in mid-1977 that sidelined him for more than a year and a half.
Randy Wright blew out his knee as a rookie in 1984.
Don Majkowski underwent rotator cuff surgery in his right shoulder in 1990.
Even Bart Starr saw his career end prematurely in 1971 after an assortment of arm and elbow injuries.
Back then, the sight of quarterbacks getting carted off the field was as much a part of the football landscape in Green Bay as losing seasons.
When Brett Favre arrived in 1992 to start 277 consecutive games, it was like an overdue gift from the football gods. Now, with Aaron Rodgers having missed just one game due to injury in his five seasons as starter, a generation of fans has never seen the Packers' quarterback go down.
Will this 21-year streak of indestructibility at the quarterback position extend to 22 in 2013?
Given the extraordinary importance of Rodgers and the sketchiness of his backups, the Packers' championship chances depend on it.
As recently as two years ago, Rodgers' health was an issue. In 2010, he suffered the first concussion of his career in Game 5 and then a second in Game 13. He sat out half of one game and another complete game (the Packers went 0-2) but has started the last 41 without incident.
Rodgers changed to a more protective helmet after the concussions. He also has governed himself far better in the open field while mastering how and when to slide.
Over the years, Rodgers also has made himself stronger and leaner with greater attention to personal fitness. Described before the draft in 2005 as “just so fragile” by an AFC personnel director, Rodgers' body today is far better served to absorb punishment.
“He came back in great shape,” quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. “He has a competitive edge about him that probably separates him from the rest.”
Not unlike Favre, Rodgers has shown a remarkable ability to play through injury.
He played four football seasons—two in high school, one in junior college and one at California—with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. At last, he relented and had surgery performed after his first season with the Golden Bears.
During the '03 season, Rodgers suffered a broken index finger on his throwing hand but missed just one day of practice.
It was beginning to appear as though Rodgers really was injury-prone during his second and third seasons as Favre's backup.
The first time Rodgers got a legitimate chance to play, he suffered a broken fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot against the Patriots and underwent surgery five days later. Although injured in the third quarter, he nevertheless managed to finish the game.
In 2007, Rodgers pulled a hamstring in practice a few days after his first performance of promise (in Dallas) and sat out the next four games.
Since succeeding Favre, Rodgers has been on the injury report for five ailments aside from the two concussions.
He was listed for six weeks in 2008 with a right shoulder injury but missed just one practice in its entirety.
In 2009, he was listed four times with foot problems and another with a rib injury. His chronically sore feet caused him to sit out two practices.
Rodgers wasn't listed for anything except the concussions in 2010. After not being listed at all in 2011, he spent three weeks of 2012 as probable with a calf injury and another week as probable with an ankle injury. He never missed a practice.
For a player who began high school at 5 feet, 6 inches and 123 pounds and played as a senior at 6-foot and 185, Rodgers (6-foot-2, 225) now has the build and pain tolerance to lead the team for years to come.
At 29, he should be at the peak of his physical powers. His chances to continue playing 16 games every season have been dramatically enhanced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's ongoing directives to safeguard quarterbacks.
Nasty injuries to quarterbacks are few and far between these days. But quarterbacks do go down, as did Houston's Matt Schaub (Lisfranc foot injury) and Chicago's Jay Cutler (broken thumb) in the 10th game of 2011.
The Bears' 1-5 finish helped lead to the firing of general manager Jerry Angelo, and although the Texans made the playoffs, their Super Bowl hopes were ruined.
“I know one thing,” an assistant coach for Houston said last October. “If the Packers lose Rodgers like we lost Schaub last year, you can forget about it. I don't give a (expletive) who their backup is. It won't matter.”
For the second summer in a row Rodgers has been judged the best player in the NFL by Pro Football Weekly. On April 26, after becoming the league's highest-paid player with a five-year, $110 million extension ($54 million guaranteed), he referred to himself as “the face of this franchise.”
“I still see him as a guy that's hungry and will play with a chip on his shoulder,” McAdoo said. “I haven't seen anything that's changed, and I wouldn't anticipate that. He wants to work for another ring, just like the rest of us.”
Above all the attributes, McAdoo cites the ability to make plays on the move as Rodgers' pre-eminent quality.
Counting playoffs, the Packers have been sacked a whopping 236 times in Rodgers' 86 games as the starter. By subjective count, he has been charged with 60 (26.9 percent), and that total includes 14 in 2012 compared to 6½ in '11.
In contrast, Favre was charged with just 22½ sacks in his final five seasons for the Packers (85 games) and the team had 107. At the same time, if Favre had taken more sacks he probably would have thrown fewer interceptions.
McAdoo aims to cut the number of quarterback-responsible sacks in half this season.
“We're going to get some sacks,” he said. “Like when we're breaking out of the pocket and someone gets his foot at the last minute.
“But there are some sacks we can eliminate. There are times we can throw the ball away or dump it down.”
Graham Harrell is back in Green Bay for a fourth season. After two seasons as No. 3 behind Rodgers and Matt Flynn, he beat out rookie B.J. Coleman for the No. 2 job last summer despite an ineffectual showing.
“Well, we're going to even out the reps between Graham and B.J. and let them compete,” said McAdoo. “It'll be interesting to see how B.J. develops with reps.”
Among the veterans the Packers could have signed in the offseason were Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chase Daniel, Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Cassel, Jason Campbell, John Skelton and Drew Stanton.
In the fourth round of the draft, the Packers selected tackle David Bakhtiari with the 109th pick just ahead of quarterbacks Ryan Nassib (110), Tyler Wilson (112) and Landry Jones (115).
Matt Barkley, who went 98th to Philadelphia, was available when the Packers traded the 88th and then 93rd choices. The pick for Bakhtiari was the result of those deals.
“We evaluated them like we always do,” McAdoo said, referring to the draft class of quarterbacks. “Obviously, the opportunity didn't present itself.
“I think Graham can go in and win a game for us. There is a savviness about him where to go with the football. Fundamentally, he's improved tremendously the last couple years.”