Two trades – the one that brought Kizer to the Packers in March and Wednesday’s deal that sent Brett Hundley to the Seattle Seahawks – put the former second-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in position to back up Aaron Rodgers this season.
“You know, it’s interesting being a starting quarterback pretty much my whole life other than my redshirt year [at Notre Dame], this is kind of a unique situation when you know you’re not going to be QB1,” Kizer said recently. “But now it’s about determining what’s the difference between QB2 and QB3, and I think that in this situation it’s what you make it.
“I think we have a really cool quarterback room that is going to respect each other and make sure that everyone is prepared to step out there. But once we start getting into the regular season, it’s about determining what we can do from behind Aaron to try to enhance his game, whether it be reports from week to week, whether it be watching a specific thing within the game and reporting back to him on that, or simply just trying to push him by competing as hard as you possibly can in practice. I think that once we figure out how this thing is going to play out, then we’ll be able to determine what the week-to-week process looks like.”
Now Kizer knows.
It’s not necessarily that he won the job with his performance on the field during training camp practices and preseason games. But rather that the Packers believe he could grow into a better player than Hundley is right now. The Packers no doubt jumped at the chance to get something in return for Hundley, whose improved play this summer made him a commodity again. Remember, it was during Hundley’s struggles last season as Rodgers’ replacement that one NFL scout told ESPN.com Hundley couldn’t have drawn even a seventh-round pick. That same scout estimated that before Hundley started a game, he could have fetched as high as a fourth-round pick.
That the Packers got a 2019 sixth-round pick from the Seahawks for Hundley speaks to his improvement this summer. Hundley played well in the first two preseason games and then showed some poise in Game 3 last week at Oakland despite shoddy pass protection.
Without a trade, the Packers probably would have kept Hundley as their No. 2 quarterback going into this season and then let him walk in free agency. This way, they get something in return for their 2015 fifth-round pick.
Either way, they weren’t moving on from Kizer, who is under contract through 2020 and has his base salary of $689,928 guaranteed this season.
General manager Brian Gutekunst no doubt wants to see how coach Mike McCarthy and his staff develop Kizer. It won’t be easy, considering that Kizer was described earlier this offseason as a “total rebuild” after what he went through in Cleveland last season, but the Packers have seen signs that their reconstruction of Kizer’s footwork and delivery has taken hold without him having to think about it.
“When you’re playing that position that DeShone’s playing, that’s important,” Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “The last thing you want is to be paint-by-numbers, robotic at the quarterback position. There’s got to be some spontaneity there ... as coaches we try to choreograph everything and it’s going to happen just like this, this and this. That doesn’t always translate to the game. Long answer, but I think a) he’s definitely improved fundamentally, and b) it’s showing up on the tape. I think he’s played the game without not being too robotic about it.”
Kizer played two series in Thursday’s preseason finale at Kansas City and completed 5 of 7 passes for 57 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
On his first series, he looked like the Kizer of 2017. He floated a ball over tight end Lance Kendricks that was intercepted – his first of the preseason after throwing a league-high 22 last season for the Browns. On the second one, he showed the kind of new footwork and fundamentals the Packers have taught him. He scrambled for 10 yards on third-and-6 and showed patience on Geronimo Allison's stop-and-go for a 31-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1.
Everything about the Packers’ approach behind Rodgers is new, too.
Not only did they settle the Hundley-Kizer competition early, but they also plan to keep undrafted rookie Tim Boyle. They can’t risk trying to sneak him through to the practice squad, not after what happened with Taysom Hill last year. McCarthy wanted Hill, and then-GM Ted Thompson gambled that he could get Hill back on the practice squad, but the Saints claimed him off waivers.
Boyle’s remarkable arm strength and ease at picking up the offense have been impressive for a rookie who had minimal success in college – first at UConn and then at Eastern Kentucky.
Boyle plays with more confidence than any other undrafted rookie to come through Green Bay in recent years. That showed against the Chiefs. He directed touchdown drives on his first two possessions with on-the-money throws to Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 30-yard catch-and-run and a 1-yard quick-hit touchdown to tight end Robert Tonyan, who may have played his way onto the roster with four catches for 31 yards and the touchdown.
"Robert had some really good, quality snaps in the first half," McCarthy said after the game. "I thought him and Tim connected very well. Really, you see those guys throughout all of training camp, throughout practice and preseason games, so they have a really good start there, those two. I know Tim feels really comfortable throwing the ball to him."