Tom Oates: Packers taking big chance entering season with Tim Boyle as backup quarterback

Tom Oates: Packers taking big chance entering season with Tim Boyle as backup quarterback

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Packers quarterback Tim Boyle completed 59.6% of his preseason pass attempts with six touchdowns and no interceptions.

GREEN BAY — After six weeks of training camp and a final cutdown process that was all speculation and no action, the greatest concern for the Green Bay Packers is the same as it was back in July.

Do they have a backup quarterback who can keep the team reasonably competitive should 35-year-old starter Aaron Rodgers go down with an injury?

By finally giving up on DeShone Kizer and failing to sign or trade for a veteran quarterback in the past two days, the Packers have cast their lot with a second-year quarterback who had a thoroughly unimpressive college career and has never played in an NFL game. Somehow, though, Tim Boyle is the only quarterback besides Rodgers on the Packers’ 53-man roster with the season opener against the Chicago Bears coming up Thursday night at Soldier Field.

You might remember how the big, bad Bears defense battered Rodgers in last season’s opener, sending him to the sideline for much of the first half with a left knee injury. And though Rodgers emerged from the halftime locker room to rescue the Packers with a brilliant second half, the knee was never right all season.

You might also recall that Rodgers missed seven games in 2013 and nine games in 2017, both times with broken collarbones, and that he experienced tightness in his back that kept him out of at least one preseason game this year.

Yet, heading into a critical opener against arguably the best and most aggressive front seven in the NFL, the Packers have only the 24-year-old Boyle in reserve at football’s most important position.

If that is bothering anyone in the Packers organization, they weren’t letting on Sunday.

“I expect Tim to prepare like he’s the starter,” first-year coach Matt LaFleur said. “He’s done a great job preparing all throughout since we’ve gotten here. He takes it very seriously and he still does a great job of supporting Aaron in his role as a backup. I’m excited about Tim. I think he’s a good, young player that has a lot of room to grow.”

General manager Brian Gutekunst, who acquired Kizer in a trade with the Cleveland Browns for former first-round draft pick Damarious Randall in 2018 and likely struggled to show him the door, insisted the Packers are comfortable with Boyle as Rodgers’ backup.

“Obviously, he had a really good preseason,” Gutekunst said. “Since we got Tim last year, his progression has been pretty steady and consistent. He went out there this preseason and performed well. I think he’s ready for it if that occasion arises.”

There seems to be a consensus in the public that the Packers are done if Rodgers goes down no matter who the backup is, but that’s not necessarily the case. Yes, Brett Hundley failed miserably in 2017, going 3-7 as the primary quarterback as the Packers missed the playoffs. And, yes, Kizer was overmatched when he replaced Rodgers in the first half against the Bears last year and again when he played extensively in the season-ending loss to Detroit.

In 2013, however, former backup Matt Flynn returned to Green Bay and went 2-2-1 as the primary quarterback before Rodgers returned to lead the Packers to the playoffs. So, it has been proven that a competent backup can keep the Packers alive if Rodgers is only down for awhile. Boyle does have some long-term potential, but no one knows if he’s competent enough to win games at this stage of his career.

LaFleur is known as a quarterback whisperer, but Boyle is a major project and certainly will test that reputation. Boyle failed to earn the full-time starting job in three seasons at Connecticut and transferred to an FCS school, Eastern Kentucky, where he started 11 games in 2017. In all, Boyle started 19 of 36 college games he played in over four seasons, completing 55.4% of his passes for 3,371 yards, 12 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.

Tall with a strong arm, Boyle looked the part during his first training camp and the Packers kept him as the third quarterback last season. Still, he was inactive for 15 of the 16 games. This summer, he beat out Kizer with a solid preseason, though inconsistency remained a problem, especially in games.

Kizer, who was claimed on waivers by the Oakland Raiders, was even more inconsistent than Boyle and didn’t seem to be improving. Still, he has 15 NFL starts on his resume.

“Obviously, both those guys played really well, but I think Tim performed better in the preseason games when it mattered,” Gutekunst said. “Both those guys are quality NFL quarterbacks and they’ve done a nice job over the time that they’ve been here. We wish DeShone nothing but the best. I think he’s going to do outstanding in Oakland. But I think at this time Tim was a little bit ahead of him.”

That matched the opinion of LaFleur, who said he puts more stock in practice than in preseason games.

“I think (production in games) is always important,” LaFleur said. “But I take more from the practices, just because you’re looking at a limited sample size in comparison to the number of practice reps that are out there. But you definitely want to see how guys respond when naturally there’s more pressure.”

Everyone is anxious to see how Boyle responds. Just not anytime soon.

Contact Tom Oates at toates@madison.com.

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