The Green Bay Packers would still be in a world of hurt if starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers were lost for any stretch in 2013, but the team can certainly feel more confident about sudden backup front-runner Vince Young keeping the offense afloat than any of the alternatives in Green Bay this summer.
The 30-year-old Young now appears to be the heavy favorite to back up Rodgers in 2013.
As ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported, the Packers released 2012 backup Graham Harrell just one day after he struggled moving the first-team offense against the Seattle Seahawks. Meanwhile, Young led a touchdown drive with the reserves and generally looked like the more threatening quarterback.
Looks as if Vince Young has won Packers backup QB job. Packers are releasing QB Graham Harrell.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 24, 2013
Harrell did little to warrant an extended look as a backup candidate.
Rodgers played just one series against Seattle, leaving Harrell with a perfect opportunity to win the job outright while playing with the majority of the offensive starters. Instead, he bumbled his way through five series during which the Packers scored zero points and Harrell threw for just 49 yards on 13 attempts (3.8 yards per attempt).
Young entered in the third quarter and immediately led the Packers on a game-tying touchdown march. The former Pro Bowler accounted for 64 of the drive's 80 yards, including 25 yards passing and another 39 rushing.
He found backup fullback Jonathan Amosa for a one-yard touchdown to tie the score at 10.
On two of his three rushing attempts, Young identified Seattle's man coverage and then took off from the pocket once the play developed. You can see Young taking advantage of open field in front of him as he escapes the rush on each run:
He picked up 21 yards on his first scramble and 18 on the next. Overall, Young's running ability represents the trump card that Harrell simply doesn't possess; a go-to trait that can save a play otherwise destined for failure.
Harrell, for all his ingrained knowledge of the Packers offense, lacks an identifiable attribute at the position that can consistently strike fear into a defense. He may know all the plays, checkdowns and protections, but understanding and executing in a live-game setting have always been two separate entities for Harrell.
Second-year quarterback B.J. Coleman, who was originally expected to compete with Harrell for the backup job at the start of the offseason, put together another uninspiring performance versus Seattle (2-of-7, eight yards) and is now the likely No. 3. If Young wins the backup job, chances are Coleman will head back to the practice squad for another year of seasoning.
Why trim the quarterback fat now?
The decision might be as simple as the Packers finally realizing Harrell had hit his relatively low quarterbacking ceiling in the NFL, while also sensing that Young, an experienced veteran who has won 31 games at this level, still has room to develop while learning the Green Bay offense.
Given more time to digest the playbook and fine-tune his passing fundamentals under Mike McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, Young should provide a much more attractive option as the No. 2 quarterback than Harrell or Coleman, especially in 2013.
Of course, the Packers must know that any significant injury to Rodgers this year would still be a season-ending blow.
For all the improvements Young has made in a relatively short period in Green Bay, he's still a quarterback learning a new system on the fly. And he's also a quarterback who hasn't played in a regular season game since 2011, when he started three games in place of Michael Vick for the Philadelphia Eagles.
While his game log as a starter during that season included some volume stats (see table below), Young still turned the football over at a high rate, and the Eagles averaged only 17 points.
|at NYG||W 17-10||23/36||258||2/3||5|
|at SEA||L 14-31||17/29||208||1/4||32|
A touchdown drive in the third quarter of a preseason game isn't exactly the most compelling evidence in favor of Young, either. In fact, it's probably a fairer assessment to say that the Packers finally were ready to give up on Harrell after two-plus years of minimal improvement than claiming Young "won" the job outright Friday night against the Seahawks.
Even if Young's appointment as the backup happened by default, the Packers are likely in better hands behind Rodgers today than they were a week ago, or even last season, when Harrell was the backup for all 16 games.
Losing Rodgers for any period of time is still a worst-case scenario for Green Bay, but the emergence of an experienced and occasionally dangerous Vince Young has at least provided the Packers with a semblance of hope should No. 12 be relegated to the sideline in 2013.