GREEN BAY — Tim Boyle took two steps to his left and stretched his throwing arm toward the cherry wood laundry hamper near his locker. He rapped his knuckles on the cover and smiled. Then, he began to speak.
“It took me, I think, a couple weeks to get in the rhythm of my expectations, and just the reality that, if Aaron goes down …”
There, Boyle stopped dead in his conversational tracks. He knocked on the wood again, before completing the sentence.
“… I’m the guy.”
Those words hung in the locker room air for a couple of beats. To be clear, the Green Bay Packers’ second-year backup quarterback wants to play. He believes he can be an NFL starter. He is certain, if disaster did strike, he’d be ready — despite his thin NFL resume.
But Boyle is also acutely aware of what’s happened around the NFL during the first two months of the NFL season. Nick Foles going down with a broken collarbone for Jacksonville. Drew Brees going down with a broken thumb for New Orleans. And, last week, Patrick Mahomes going down with a knee injury for the Kansas City Chiefs — the 6-1 Packers’ next opponent on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
And as confident as Boyle is, he doesn’t want to see his friend, mentor and one of the best quarterbacks in the game, Aaron Rodgers, suffer a similar fate. He’s just fine with running the scout team during the week in practice, texting Rodgers various film observations about the upcoming opponent and having his playing time limited to mop-up duty, like the six snaps — three handoffs, three kneel-downs — he played during Sunday’s 42-24 victory over the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field.
“It’s really about preparing like you’re the starting quarterback. I feel like I’m doing that,” Boyle said. “And if I have to go in there, I definitely feel like I’ll get the job done. It’s something where I think the last couple weeks, I’ve become more comfortable with the play calls and understanding my role as the weeks progress.”
Diverse to-do list
Boyle earned that role by outperforming DeShone Kizer, a 2017 second-round pick whom the Packers acquired from the Browns last offseason, in preseason play. (Kizer, coincidentally, was back at Lambeau Field on Sunday as the Raiders’ No. 3 quarterback behind Derek Carr and Mike Glennon.) After making the 53-man roster coming out of camp a year ago as a lightly regarded undrafted rookie free agent, it was quite the turn of events for Boyle, who despite a strong camp wasn’t sure where he’d be for the season opener at Chicago.
“Week 1, it was such a quick turnaround. I didn’t know if I was on the team or not, and then five days later I’m the backup quarterback in the game,” Boyle said. “If I would’ve went in the game in Chicago, I think I would have executed and felt comfortable, but I think it’s elevated since then because now I really understand — I’ve done this seven times now.”
As Rodgers’ backup, Boyle might have the most diverse to-do list of any player on the team. During practice, he watches the starting offense, eavesdropping on the play-calls and running them in his mind as Rodgers runs them on the field. Because Rodgers values practice reps to the nth degree, Boyle’s live snaps are limited to the scout team, which he tries to translate into the Packers’ offensive verbiage and concepts whenever possible.
On top of that, he’s watching as much if not more film of the upcoming opponent each week and dashing off notes to Rodgers on what he sees, attaching video clips that he iMessages to Rodgers almost daily. The offensive coaches also give him a variety of projects to do, and at the end of the week, Boyle is in charge of the Friday quarterback quiz, which consists not only of questions about concepts, play-calls and the opposing defense, but off-the-wall non-football topics. (“You can use your imagination,” Boyle said.)
“I’ll tell you, the backup quarterback role is one of the most difficult roles there is in football,” Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “You don’t get as many reps. It’s all mental, from watching tape to learning from the starter. I think he’s done a really good job. He always goes off on the side, gets extra throws, does whatever he can do to prepare himself.
“It’s a hard role because you’ve got to be ready to go in at any time, but I think he’s done a really nice job. His involvement in the meetings, how he talks, makes you feel comfortable that he is understanding it. That’s something that he has to continue to do.”
Added quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy: “The good thing that I’ve seen with Tim over the last few weeks is I’ve seen him become a good pro in his approach, his preparation, and his ability to be a good backup to Aaron. And help Aaron in the preparation process. And I think he’s done a great job of establishing himself as a leader in that scout-team group. He’s done a great job of making sure he’s mentally prepared for stuff.”
Boyle certainly seems to understand his job is largely one of servitude. For the defense, it’s his job not only to present an accurate scout-team look but also to challenge that unit by competing on each snap and not merely going through the motions as the play is drawn up on a card — while also trying to use those snaps to improve his own game.
“On most teams around the league, those are that person’s only reps for the week,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “There is a lot of carryover in this league in terms of certain concepts, especially in the dropback game. So, you definitely try to put whatever concept we’re showing into our own language so he can get those reps in terms of just the rhythm and the timing that each pass play takes. Those are extremely valuable for that player.
“We’ve all been places where you circle where the ball’s going to go (for the scout-team quarterback). That’s not what we’re doing. We’re having him actually read out the defense because that’s more realistic anyways. Because it’s not like it’s going to get any easier in the game.”
Added defensive coordinator Mike Pettine: “Tim’s been real good about it. He’ll come and ask every week, ‘OK, what have we got?’ He wants to know (how to help).”
Boyle takes the job of sharing observations with Rodgers seriously. Rodgers has long relied on his backups for information and insights — Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien were perhaps the best at it — that he can apply in his preparation and on game day.
“My job legitimately when I’m not getting those practice-squad reps is to be his assistant,” Boyle said. “Aaron likes a lot of information. He can handle it. So whatever I learn (about the opposing defense) or see, I communicate it and he takes it — whether he wants to use it, or he puts it to the side and says, ‘Hey, I’ll use that later.’
“I’ll say, ‘Hey, watch this clip. Here’s what I’m thinking. See this signal?’ Whatever comes to my mind, I let him know. It’s up to him what he wants to do with it. Sometimes he takes it. Sometimes he comes in and we talk about it. But that’s the fun of it. He’s such a cerebral thinker and he thinks through those things, which I feel like a lot of guys in this league don’t. He just takes it to a whole other level, making sure he’s seeing everything.”
Rodgers, of course, spent three seasons doing the same research work for Brett Favre and competed during his scout-team reps like they were the Super Bowl. (That’s how his ubiquitous belt celebration got its start, as an over-the-top celebration of scout-team touchdowns against the starting defense.) As a result, he’s tried to impart to Boyle as much advice as possible for maximizing the value to be found in a backup gig.
“The best backups we’ve had here over the years have been cerebral players who work really hard at their craft. And Tim is a smart guy — a really smart guy,” Rodgers said. “He does what I always tried to do with Brett — just to give the starter 3-5 things every week just to remember or think about.
“It could be throughout the week or it could be on game day, and it’s stuff that really helps. It’s little reminders that we may have talked about or seen on film. He’s texting me Mondays and Tuesdays, talking about certain things he sees on film and that’s what you want from a backup — a guy who’s going to support you.
“He’s done a great job on the look team, giving our guys a great look, and then also progressing on his own fundamentals. I think he’s done everything that he can do. He gets it. He really does. He gets the whole gist of what it means to be a backup — to be supportive, to be competitive and to really focus on the things he needs to do better in order to put himself in a position to be ready to play.”
Even if no one wants him to.
“On the positive side, I get to go against such a great defense every day, I get to see those looks and how they disguise and see how I’d handle those things during a game. That’s been great,” Boyle said. “I feel like I get to prepare like I’m the starter, and if I was the starting quarterback this Sunday, I’d do the same thing — and I’d expect (practice-squad quarterback) Manny (Wilkins) to do the same thing for me as I’m doing for Aaron — watching film, making sure all three guys in the room are ready to go in the game.
“This league is so fluid, anything can happen. So, you have to approach it like you’re playing every play in the game. That’s one thing I think Aaron always says, ‘Work on the things you want to work on. You’re not necessarily running the play like you’re in a game, so you can take some chances and work on the things you want to work on.’”
Photos: Packers crush Raiders as Aaron Rodgers turns in stellar performance