Harrell shaky, out to prove he can back up Rodgers
If everything goes as planned for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, it's an issue that won't come up all season.
The issue being turnovers.
A reliable backup quarterback can be a critical cog that keeps a potential Super Bowl contender on track if there's a rough patch during the season. And right now, it's unclear whether Graham Harrell is ready for the job.
The former Texas Tech star struggled in the Packers' preseason loss to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night, completing 12 of 24 passes for 100 yards with two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He also was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety.
Harrell wasn't happy with the performance but said it didn't shake his confidence.
''That's the key, is to score points and finish drives,'' Harrell said afterward. ''We didn't do that tonight. We're always confident in ourselves. It's not like I'll ever lose confidence in myself. I'm fine. Like I said, we'll evaluate the film tomorrow, see what happened and try to improve from it.''
Packers general manager Ted Thompson passed on the chance to pick up a veteran backup after Matt Flynn signed with Seattle in the offseason. It was a sign that Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy felt comfortable that Harrell was far enough along in his development that he could make the leap from No. 3 to No. 2.
Harrell has shown ability and increased arm strength during training camp, but Thursday's shaky performance is dredging up questions about whether he's ready.
''I felt the things Graham did very well and what I was very pleased with was his scrambling ability, quarterback runs for first down,'' McCarthy said. ''That was something that I would not say was a part of his game last year. I think he's really improved in that part of the pocket awareness. I thought he was put in some tough spots. On the negative side, he missed some throws. We'll take a close look at it.''
It didn't help that Browns backup Colt McCoy, a player the Packers (No. 1 in the AP Pro32) were linked to in trade rumors this offseason, looked sharp as he led a touchdown drive in the third quarter. The Browns went on to win 35-10, sending the Packers to an 0-2 start to the preseason.
That said, neither interception was primarily Harrell's fault; one came on a desperation pass just before halftime, and the other came after a receiver slipped and fell.
''He had a couple hard-luck interceptions,'' Rodgers said.
And any quarterback would be challenged to play with a mishmash of inexperienced second- and third-string players - particularly when facing the Browns' defensive starters.
''I'm sure he wants to clean a few things up, but he got into a rhythm there in the fourth quarter on that drive,'' Rodgers said. ''We've got a lot of confidence in Graham. We're not worried about him. They kept their first-team defense in for the majority of the first half, I think the whole first half, and I know what that's like at times.''
Rodgers recalled his first few years as a backup, when the Packers played the Tennessee Titans in the preseason and then-coach Jeff Fisher played his defensive starters deep into the game.
''And that's difficult, especially when you're playing against Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch and Keith Bulluck and (Cortland) Finnegan and those guys,'' Rodgers said. ''It's difficult. The Browns stars on defense should be able to have a favorable matchup against 2s and 3s on our team, although we'd like to probably move the ball a little bit more effectively.''
Harrell acknowledged that playing with an ever-changing group of offensive personnel is difficult, but that's just part of life as a backup quarterback in the preseason.
''I think that is tough, at times,'' Harrell said. ''The more reps you get with each other, I think the more consistent you can be, and you kind of feel each other out a little better. That's something we have to kind of do on the run and try to do a lot quicker and do a better job of, is just having everyone on the same page and making things happen out there when there are so many moving parts because in the preseason that's the way it is.''
After coming out of Thursday's game, Rodgers did his best to help Harrell on the sideline.
''Well, Aaron's always trying to coach,'' Harrell said. ''He was kind of saying what he sees and what he thinks and different things like that. He's just always trying to help out over there.''
For Rodgers, it was another example of going out of his way to serve as a mentor to the Packers' younger quarterbacks.
''I like to stay in the game,'' Rodgers said. ''I obviously care about Graham and want him to do well. We talked about some things at halftime, they were playing a lot of one-high man coverages - so kind of the best concepts we wanted. But I want those guys, B.J. (Coleman) and Graham, to do well, and I'm going to help out as much as I'm wanted to help out.''
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