Packers' Coleman hopes to back up Rodgers

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By Lori Nickel
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thursday, August 1, 2013

GREEN BAY--B.J. Coleman has shown so much improvement in the year he has spent in Green Bay that the Packers are giving him every opportunity to win the backup quarterback job.

With a better handle on the playbook and a rededication to his nutrition, Coleman is in a really good position to show the coaches what he can do and possibly take the job that belonged to Graham Harrell last season.

The time is now. Preseason is when backup quarterbacks get their most work in practice, and Coleman needs the experience.

On Wednesday, Coleman was second in line behind Rodgers in practice, a notable indication of how closely the Packers are evaluating him. Overall he got a couple of more throws during the practice than Harrell.

Before Wednesday, Coleman had done a good job taking care of the football and avoiding turnovers. But on the fifth day of training camp, he threw two interceptions.

Early in practice during the “team” period, linebacker A.J. Hawk intercepted Coleman on a slant throw. Later in practice, also during the team period, Coleman had four receivers and tight end Jermichael Finley. When the pressure came, he ran out of the pocket to the right and then threw inside. This time, safety Morgan Burnett picked him off.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy chalked a lot of that up to inexperience.

“The one interception, (with the) three-man rush and in a spread formation, he did exactly what you're supposed to do,” McCarthy said. “When he did slide to his right, it was just a poor decision. A good play on Morgan Burnett's (part). From his standpoint, that was a bad decision.

“The other one, he just got fooled a little bit. I would throw those mistakes in the area of experience, recognition and something that all quarterbacks need and he can't get enough of it because this is where he is.”

But Coleman also showed Wednesday why he has so much potential. Veteran receiver James Jones ran a double move on rookie cornerback Micah Hyde on the right side. Coleman launched a beautiful pass that was 50 yards in the air. Jones snagged the long touchdown for one of the best throws in camp so far.

Coleman has prepared for this moment. Eager to the Nth degree, he tweaked his diet in the off-season and dropped under 230 pounds. He was 236 last year.

“I liked the fact that I was a little lighter, a little more mobile,” said Coleman. “I can move a little better on my feet.”

He also said he feels a lot more comfortable with the playbook, where he admits he was lost at times last year in his first training camp.

“It's a very meticulous, very detailed book—and the quarterback is in the center of all of it,” said Coleman. “And as the decision maker, you have to be careful not to do too much at once. That's very hard to do at that position. Sometimes I've caught myself several times trying to do too much.

“It's like that old saying: If you try to chase two rabbits, you catch none.”

Receiver Jordy Nelson said that's what the young Green Bay quarterback needs first: mastery of the offense.

“They've got to know the playbook,” said Nelson. “But it is going to take time to develop. It's hard for a quarterback to sub straight in—especially one that doesn't get as many reps.”

That's changed. The Packers are splitting the backup repetitions in practice pretty equally between Coleman and Harrell, who has been a pro since 2009, with the Packers for three years, two of them on the practice squad. That means equal opportunities between the two men and more chances for Coleman than last year when he was on the practice squad behind Harrell.

“Last year I might get a rep or two at the end of each period,” said Coleman. “This year I'm getting five a period but also really getting the chance to feel comfortable in there and get a little bit of a rhythm.”

It seems the Packers are giving Coleman, in his second year, every chance to win the backup job, and he sees it that way as well.

“I do,” said Coleman. “It's a competition and you have to go out there and put your best foot forward.”

That's a challenge and added pressure that Coleman seems to enjoy.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Competition breeds success.”

The Packers have to like Coleman's intensity. He talks so fast he would give a courtroom reporter a run for his money. His brain always seems to be going. You might only catch him relaxing if he's back home around the pool, unless of course a pool basketball game breaks out, then look out. He's just wired.

That trait is great for a quarterback—as long as he can settle his feet a little bit, he explained.

“I'm probably still in that gunslinger mentality where I try to force it sometimes,” said Coleman. “I still have to knock a little rust off with fundamentals.

“But from this time last year to now, my feet have definitely quieted. Your feet talk to you. Listen to your feet, get the football out when they tell you to and that's what I'm really trying to get to. I feel better with it—I'm not there yet. I've got a ways to go.”

As the receivers study Coleman's strides from last year to this, they see Coleman's intent to improve with each practice.

“They've got to know the playbook in and out, they've got to be able to make adjustments, they've got to be confident,” said Nelson. “He has a very strong arm. Sometimes too much (Nelson laughed) but he's got a good zip on the ball. It's just working on the timing, understanding the speed of the game. And make sure the ball gets out when it needs to be out.

“Once the season comes, whoever is in this locker room on the 53-man roster we're going to depend on every single one of them at some time. So they've got to be ready.”

Coleman is doing his best to ready himself. Sometimes that's mental and just getting over bad protection or bad looks on one of the precious few snaps he gets in practice with other second- and third-string players.

Coleman said it is all about resetting himself and being more neutral.

“You don't want to have a good day, a bad, day, a roller coaster at practice,” said Coleman. “You want to be very consistent. That's where the trust is built between the offensive coordinator and the quarterback.”

Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

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