Packers preseason 2017: QB battle more significant than it appears

GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 12: Joe Callahan
GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 12: Joe Callahan /

With Brett Hundley’s future still uncertain, the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback battle between Joe Callahan and Taysom Hill holds a lot of weight.

There’s a quarterback controversy in Green Bay.

No, of course not. But the battle between second-year player Joe Callahan and undrafted rookie Taysom Hill may be for more than the potential prize of a third-string quarterback position. The Packers could very well be using this competition to determine if either of the young players are ready to back up Aaron Rodgers himself.

Barring injury, Brett Hundley is Rodgers’ backup as long as he’s on the roster. As long as he’s on the roster. Green Bay may look to trade the former UCLA Bruin, who is under contract through 2018.

Hundley, taken by the Packers in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, impressed coaches during his first preseason, showing maturity for a young player. Hundley reportedly had a slow start to camp this year, but head coach Mike McCarthy praised Hundley’s work in the offseason and said he showed up with improved footwork and a higher confidence in his abilities.

GREEN BAY, WI – AUGUST 29: Brett Hundley
GREEN BAY, WI – AUGUST 29: Brett Hundley /

He showed a little more of what he has to offer in Green Bay’s 24-9 win over the Philadelphia Eagles last Thursday. He completed eight passes for 90 yards. Included was a 20-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jeff Janis after Hundley baited C.J. Smith to bite on a pump fake.

The Packers have a history of building up potential in young quarterbacks then turning a profit on them by trading for draft picks, such as Aaron Brooks and Matt Hasselbeck. Hundley has the skills, potential, and what will be three straight preseasons of learning behind Aaron Rodgers. But importantly – the Packers like what they’ve seen out of Joe Callahan since last year, and he’s only improved.

Green Bay evidently has confidence that Callahan can backup Rodgers. Rob Demovsky of ESPN wrote back in April that the Packers tried to trade Hundley in the second day of the draft. They want to return a profit on the fifth rounder.

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Callahan impressed so much during preseason last year that he made the roster as the third string, although he was eventually released to free up room. He went on to two other teams – the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns – but was released from both and returned to Green Bay.

Wes Hodkiewicz of said on his “Packers Unscripted” podcast that being cut by three teams in 2016 weighs on the mind of Callahan, who seems to have come to camp with a chip on his shoulder.

“That pushed him a lot. He’s exceeded so many expectations, but he believes he should be here,” Hodkiewicz said. “He has all the intangibles, kind of like [Rodgers] to be able to make things happen outside of the pocket.”

KANSAS CITY, MO – SEPTEMBER 01: Quarterback Joe Callahan
KANSAS CITY, MO – SEPTEMBER 01: Quarterback Joe Callahan /

Callahan has impressed with his instincts to escape pressure and extend plays. He put his mobility on display Thursday against Philadelphia, escaping the pocket to find young receiver Max McCaffrey on a 34-yard pass.

But though he’s been nothing short of impressive, his positional battle with Taysom Hill is far from over.

Hill closed out the game on Thursday finishing 4-5 for 69 yards and a touchdown, with a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Of course it should be taken into account that he was up against backups, but it’s hard to discredit his performance.

On a back shoulder touchdown pass to Michael Clark with nine seconds left, Hill put the ball in a spot that would have been problematic to any defender. He also led the team in rushing with 14 yards.

I see the Packers heading into the season with three quarterbacks while they dangle Hundley as trade bait. Though Hill is making a case for a roster spot, Green Bay needs their third string quarterback to be ready to backup Rodgers – in case the team is able to work out a deal for Hundley. Callahan will likely be that man.

Callahan has a leg up with a year of experience in the league, and Hill is still too raw to be one Rodgers-injury away from starting for the Green Bay Packers.

On their Friday Packers Podcast, beat writers Michael Cohen and Tom Silverstein, who both said they like Hill over Callahan, admitted Hill was still a “2-3 year project.” And if the team cuts Callahan, he surely will not make it to the practice squad before another team picks him up.

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Even if the team is unwilling (or unable) to trade Hundley in 2017, he will likely be a target to deal in 2018 – especially since it will be his last year under contract. The Packers will need a QB with multiple years of team experience. This year or next, they’ll need Callahan to take over behind Rodgers.