When Ted Thompson selected quarterback B.J. Coleman out of Tennessee-Chattanooga in the later stages (with the 243rd choice in round 7) of the 2012 NFL Draft, he understood the virtual certainty that Coleman would endure a steep and difficult learning curve as he attempted to make the transition from a mid-major collegiate football program to earning a spot on an NFL roster.
The organization didn’t need to defend their decision to select a quarterback with a precious choice during that 2012 draft – even though they have the durable Rodgers under contract and who seemingly hasn’t even entered his prime. McAdoo replaced Tom Clements (who was promoted to offensive coordinator following the departure of Joe Philbin to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins) and he entered 2012 with the goal to work hard and develop a rapport in the quarterbacks room. He’s done just that.
The Packers were initially hoping that Coleman would have become polished just enough to challenge incumbent number two quarterback Graham Harrell for the right to back up Aaron Rodgers but that simply never transpired. Following the publicized departure of Matt Flynn to Seattle, it was Harrell who came into training camp looking fit and showing a little more zip on his throws.
He looked confident and in command of the offense at times and the coaching staff, and Rodgers, were more than impressed. Ultimately, he did enough during the preseason to solidify his hold on the backup job for the season. Coleman just wasn’t able to challenge him given his inexperience. Some felt that Green bay was taking a calculated risk with the unproven ex-Red Raider quarterback as their only fallback option- but Rodgers went through 2012 mostly unscathed.
Coleman certainly possesses the physical tools and demeanor that’s necessary to the position. However, heading into training camp last year that was about all he had. By most accounts the rookie looked completely lost and had almost no grasp of the playbook, the offensive system or an understanding of the reads that the quarterback is required to make before the play even starts. As the Packers progressed through their offseason program – through organized team activities, minicamps and training camp – Coleman regressed.
He had difficulty remembering plays, let alone making the correct pre-snap alignments and he couldn’t get his offensive skill players lined up in the right spots with any regularity. When he did finally run plays he looked out of sync and often rushed throws. This often led to bad incompletions, shaky overthrows and dreaded interceptions. Of course, Coleman flashed his incredible potential on some plays; he’d wing a laser into tight coverage for a completion here and step into a throw, zipping a 60-yard bomb down the sidelines there.
The coaching staff, particularly quarterbacks coach McAdoo, were intrigued enough by Coleman’s rocket arm, physical tools, size and potential to stash him on the practice squad. And that’s where he languished for 52 weeks, learning the playbook, working hard and soaking up valuable knowledge from the best quarterback on the planet, Rodgers.
Which brings us to 2013.
Boy, what a difference a year makes.
Things have certainly changed for the third-string sophomore Coleman by most accounts this spring and the early stages of summer. He stepped onto the practice field for the start of organized team activities last month and recently minicamp – and looked like a completely different player. He understood the offensive scheme and the playbook, barked out signals with authority and consistently made the correct pre- and post-snap reads. He delivered the football with crisp precision, advancing his unit up and down the field and looking like – well – a quarterback.
So, at the end of Tuesday’s minicamp practice, McAdoo let Coleman know with a whisper that he would get the opportunity to step in with the second team to run the offense in the two-minute drill. The result? A nifty four-play, 60-yard drive that ended with a precise 44-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Alex Gillett.
In terms of his ability to handle the responsibilities from whistle-to-whistle while having a better grasp of the scheme and remaining poised under pressure, Coleman showed in that situational drill that he’s getting there. Meanwhile, Harrell worked with the third team and proceeded to throw a drive-killing interception, made by recent street free agent signee, cornerback Loyce Means. That’s simply not a good taste for Harrell to leave in the coaching staff’s mouth. Particularly after coming off an underwhelming 2012 preseason and notching a nearly-lethal fumble at the goal line during the regular season opener against the Saints. He’s going to have to eliminate turnovers if he hopes to keep the number two job. Given Coleman’s superior physical skill set and burgeoning schematic improvement in the offense from last season to now, that may be a difficult proposition, if not an impossible one.
As for Coleman, he sounded confident in the post-practice interview session with the media. McCarthy had praise for the sophomore, saying that the Packers intend to get Coleman more playing time and that he was looking forward to both of the passers flat-out competing.
The translation for McCarthy’s coach-speak is that a backup quarterback battle is likely brewing in Titletown heading into training camp. For Packer fans looking for their next favorite backup and for a team looking to polish their next second string trade gem, it should be a lot of fun to watch.