GREEN BAY, Wis. – As coach Mike McCarthy put it, the Green Bay Packers' minicamp represents "a big three days" for Brett Hundley. With Aaron Rodgers among the group of veterans given the week off, the second-year quarterback was left to run the No. 1 offense.
But Hundley did not look at it quite the same way.
“It's not for me personally,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “It's more for that if my teammates know, hey, if I'm ever in the game, they can look at me and say, 'All right, we'll be good.' It's the trust that you get when you're in the huddle with the first group that they're not shaken or worried or like, 'All right, we may have to go a little slower.' No, we're moving.
“And that's one of the big things that I play for, and that's something you gain in times like this, when I get to take a little bit more reps with the ones, and just in general with these guys.”
Granted, it’s a trimmed-down version of the starters given that anyone with five or more accrued seasons was excused from minicamp. But there were enough regulars still around to impress.
Hundley looked comfortable both on the field and when dealing with the throngs of reporters who wanted to know what it was like trying to fill Rodgers’ shoes, even if only for a week.
But what would happen if this were September, October, November or December, and Hundley had to play?
There’s no regular-season game experience for Hundley to rely on, but based on his performance last preseason – when he led the NFL in touchdown passes and was second in passer rating – and the progress he’s shown this offseason, it appears the second-year pro has people around Lambeau Field convinced he could step in and win games for the Packers.
“Yes [he could],” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said without hesitation. “Right now.”
“If we didn’t [believe that], then we’d be a little nervous right now,” Van Pelt added. “But I don’t feel that way. I trust Brett to go in there and win. It’s not easy, but I expect him to do it.”
Not that there was one moment that convinced Van Pelt, but if there were, it could have been a throw Hundley made last week during organized team activities. Hundley pumped once, then twice to buy time for receiver Ed Williams to beat a defender deep and then threw a strike across the field that hit Williams in stride for a 40-yard gain.
“That's the kind of play that he's capable of making,” Van Pelt said. “We've just got to get him comfortable to make them all the time.”
And it’s a play Hundley probably wouldn’t have made last year.
“There are moments in it where you sort of sit back and as a quarterback, you’re like, ‘Dang, would I have made that throw last year?’” Hundley said. “This year, I’m a lot more confident and I made that throw. It’s the reassurance that when the game is going and you’re not thinking, you just automatically make the throw. It’s a difficult throw to make, but at the same time, you don’t flinch twice. You just throw it and make it happen. To see that difference in myself from last year to this year, those are small moments where you sit back and you think, I’ve developed a good amount.”
His teammates think the same thing. No one in Packers’ locker room has seen Hundley develop over a longer time period than Datone Jones, who played with him at UCLA.
“I’ve known Brett since he was about 17 and being recruited by UCLA, and each year I watched him progress,” Jones said. “Every year I’ve seen his game make a big step, and I can tell he’s a lot more comfortable. I can see that he’s taken a liking to Aaron’s game.
“Brett is a winner. I saw him change the whole culture at UCLA, and he was a big part of that change. He knows how to get the job done.”
Rodgers hasn’t missed a start since the broken collarbone fiasco of 2013, when the Packers were wholly unprepared behind him. No one knew if Seneca Wallace or Scott Tolzien could win games – they couldn’t, it turned out – and only re-signing Matt Flynn saved that season.
The feeling appears different this time.
“We all have confidence in him,” tight end Richard Rodgers said of Hundley. “I think he gained that during the preseason last year, just with what he was able to do on the field, and throughout the year he’s gained everyone’s confidence and we know he’s a great guy. He knows his place and plays his role on the team.”