Keep DeShone Kizer? Keep Tim Boyle? Keep both? Packers wrestle with backup QB quandary

Keep DeShone Kizer? Keep Tim Boyle? Keep both? Packers wrestle with backup QB quandary

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Packers quarterback Tim Boyle throws during the first half of last week's preseason game against the Raiders in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 

GREEN BAY — Tim Boyle swears he’s in the dark, too. If he’s taken the lead in the Green Bay Packers’ backup quarterback derby, well, that’s news to him.

Which is why, as he and DeShone Kizer enter Thursday night’s fourth and final preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lambeau Field, Boyle insists he’s not thinking about anything besides how he can perform his best.

He’s not worrying about whether coach Matt LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst want him to be Aaron Rodgers’ primary backup; or whether the team plans on only keeping Rodgers and one other quarterback on Saturday’s final roster reduction to 53 players; or if the roster is wide enough for both Kizer and him on the team; or if another NFL team will claim him if he’s the one released on the final cutdown and Kizer is declared the winner.

“It’s super cliché, but you can only control what you can control,” Boyle said this week. “I’m not worried about the competition, not worried about making the 53-man roster. That’s stuff that I can’t control. And that’ll take care of itself if I continue to play well. Executing the offense is what I’m worried about.

“The game, that’s obviously the biggest level of evaluation, for the Packers and for other teams. So this fourth game is definitely going to be important to show my consistency and ability to perform. But I’m not stressing myself out with the competition or making the 53, the practice squad, where am I going to be.”

With Rodgers set to sit out all four preseason games after back tightness kept him out of the Aug. 15 game at Baltimore and shoddy field conditions in Canada made LaFleur decide to play it safe with him for last week’s game against the Oakland Raiders in Winnipeg, Manitoba, it’s unclear which of two backups will get the starting nod and how much playing time rookie No. 4 quarterback Manny Wilkins will see.

Kizer started the first two games and comes in having completed 17 of 31 passes (54.8%) for 196 yards with one touchdown, one interception and four sacks for a 71.5 passer rating. Boyle, who got the starting nod last week against the Raiders on the truncated 80-yard field, led three touchdown drives in Winnipeg and has completed 31 of 50 passes (62%) for 338 yards with five touchdowns, no interceptions and one sack for a 115.3 rating — the best in the NFL through three preseason games.

Nevertheless, both Gutekunst and LaFleur insisted this week the race remains too close to call between the 23-year-old Kizer and 24-year-old Boyle.

“Obviously, Tim had a really good night (against Oakland). He had an opportunity to run with a different group than he had before and he did a really nice job,” Gutekunst said. “I think it’s really close. I think both guys have done a good job. They’ve both progressed, they’ve both gotten better. Again, they’re young, improving quarterbacks and this will be another step Thursday night.”

LaFleur called the competition “extremely close.” Asked what he’s looking for against the Chiefs, LaFleur replied, “I just think consistent quarterback play — the operation, getting in and out of the huddle, getting all 11 guys on the same page. There’s been really good moments and then there’s been some times where somebody doesn’t know what they’re doing and you come to find out that maybe the play call doesn’t come out as clean as it needed to be (in the huddle).”

Just how much faith the Packers should have with either quarterback under center if disaster strikes and Rodgers suffers a significant injury this season is hard to say.

Kizer struggled in spot duty last season when Rodgers suffered a knee injury in the opener and a concussion in the finale — Kizer completed only 47.6% of his passes, threw two interceptions against no touchdowns and had a 40.5 rating — and the Packers haven’t had passable backup quarterback play since they went 2-2-1 in the five games Matt Flynn played in during the 2013 season when Rodgers was out with a fractured left collarbone.

When Rodgers went down with a broken right collarbone in 2017, the Packers went 3-7 in the 10 games backup Brett Hundley played, and their victories came over the Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kizer-quarterbacked, winless Cleveland Browns — teams that went a combined 10-38 that year.

“You want a guy you know what you’re going to get when they go out there. They’re going to take care of the football and they’re going to know what’s going on. Because they’re going to lose a ton of reps (when the season starts),” said quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy, who was the team’s wide receivers coach in 2017.

“They’ve gotten a lot of reps through training camp. All three of those (backups) have. So whenever you get to season-time, they lose a lot of reps. So staying on top of everything, being a true pro and then being consistent when you get that opportunity I think is the biggest thing we’re trying to figure out throughout this entire training camp – not just the games but in practice as well.”

In fairness to both Kizer, who including his final year at Notre Dame has now played in four different offensive schemes in the past four years, and Boyle, who was one of the pleasant surprises of camp last year, they are both still developing. The Packers just need them to keep doing so.

“Obviously, we’re in a new offense, so there’s a little bit of a learning curve there,” Gutekunst said. “(It’s about) continuing to manage the huddle, manage the game. And then become a playmaker. Protect the ball and become a playmaker. I think that’s what we’re looking for in all our quarterbacks. And I think they’ll continue to do that.”

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