GREEN BAY, Wis. - Go ahead and vent your frustration about the play of backup quarterback Graham Harrell. Fret about whether the Green Bay Packers could tread water for a game or two if some sort of injury were to befall quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
They are perfectly reasonable positions that very well could be proven correct. The Packers themselves may privately be contemplating the very same things.
But publicly Friday, coach Mike McCarthy says he isn't worried. And more convincingly, Rodgers said he believes there is "absolutely nothing" to worry about with Harrell behind him on the depth chart.
And before with the What else is he going to say? chorus, it's important to note Rodgers' track record when it comes to making strong statements. He's not exactly one to take a strong position on anything and everything, but he took a very firm stance on his backup Friday, going so far as to point to the players around Harrell as the greater issue in his unproductive showing.
"I think there's absolutely nothing to worry about as far as him, his development, his readiness in case something happens to me," Rodgers said during an appearance with Steve "The Homer" True and Mitch "Thunder" Nelles on 540 ESPN Friday. "I know the staff and the players are very confident in Graham."
McCarthy was less adamant Friday in a day-after-the-game press briefing at Lambeau Field.
"That's why we're in the preseason. We haven't picked the team today," McCarthy replied when asked about Harrell. "We'll take all four games, like we do every year, and we'll let the process determine the full roster. And Graham's part of that process."
That said, McCarthy defended his No. 2 QB from the criticism he received in the wake of Thursday night's game, in which he finished 12 for 24 for 100 yards with two interceptions for a 26.4 rating. Neither interception was Harrell's fault: On a Hail Mary at the end of the half, Harrell was chased when backup left tackle Andrew Datko blew his blocking assignment on the backside; on his other interception, tight end Ryan Taylor was open for what would have been a 12-yard gain had he not fallen down while the ball was in midair.
Harrell actually had another pick-six interception, a pass that went through tight end Tom Crabtree's hands on third-and-8, but the pick was wiped out by an offsides call on the Browns.
"I would say Graham probably graded out higher than the perception of the questions or how people felt that he played," McCarthy said. "The quarterbacks are graded in detail. There's some throws that he missed. The two interceptions – we call it ‘Rebound Pass,' some people call it a ‘Hail Mary' -- no one should come down with that football, other than a Green Bay Packer. He had pressure coming off the back side and wasn't able to pull up for the throw.
"The naked (bootleg) is clearly on the receiver (Taylor) falling down. I gave him an accurate throw on that particular play. He's growing. He's getting a full dose of what it's like to play and more things went wrong, unfortunately, than normal, and we need to do a better job as an offense and he will do a better job leading us."
There's no denying that. In nine possessions, Harrell led the Browns to more points (a pick-six interception returned for a touchdown and a safety) than he did his own team (a field goal on his ninth and final drive of the night).
His first eight drives ended in four punts, a missed a field goal, two interceptions and a safety. They went for minus-5 yards, 15 yards, no yards, 9 yards, no yards, 17 yards, 24 yards and minus-16 yards. He didn't benefit from good field position often, and he didn't get very good protection from the backups on the offensive line. He was late with a couple of throws on his first drive, made some bad decisions (particularly on a screen pass that was doomed from the start) and even on a handful of his completions, Harrell was off target.
It wasn't until his final drive, when the Packers took over at their own 17-yard line, that Harrell finally clicked. Hitting wide receiver Jarrett Boykin on 25- and 24-yard gains on back-to-back plays, it looked like Harrell had found a rhythm. But then he overthrew an open Andrew Brewer on what could have been a touchdown, and when McCarthy called a pitch to running back Mark Tyler on third-and-4 that lost 2 yards, the offense settled for a 42-yard Mason Crosby field goal.
"I think he made some plays. I don't think the guys he played with last night would have said that they gave him their best effort," Rodgers said. "We had a lot of MAs; up front, I don't think we blocked as well as we wanted to at times."
McCarthy acknowledged that "the second offensive line needs to play better; they did not grade out very well." But neither did Harrell, and he'll have to play better – especially in the Aug. 30 preseason finale against Kansas City since Rodgers figures to play into the third quarter next Thursday at Cincinnati – to prove the worries about his play are unfounded.
Asked after the game what he would say to those who doubt him, Harrell chuckled.
"I don't know," he replied. "I'd like to say we'll evaluate tomorrow what happened today. We'd like to score more points. That's the key, is to score points and finish drives. 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.
"I think any preseason game you've got to look at it the same: It's another chance to go play. I didn't really think about how much time Aaron's going to get next week or anything like that (while playing the Browns). It never really crossed my mind. It was just, ‘Tonight's the night and we want to go out there and play well.' I think that's the way I try to approach every preseason game. Especially when I know I'm going to get some action, I want to go perform well and play well. The same thing in practice, any time you have the chance, you want to do your best and get better."
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