Matt Flynn isn’t sure what trait he has that makes him a good backup quarterback, and truth be told, he’d have rather gotten some other gene – say, the superstar quarterback one – instead. But at this point in his career, the Green Bay Packers’ No. 2 quarterback is embracing who he is – and what makes him good at a job that can be harder than it looks.
“There is [a different skill set],” Flynn explained Sunday, shortly after being officially named as Aaron Rodgers’ primary backup – ahead of No. 3 man Scott Tolzien, who is also on the 53-man roster – by coach Mike McCarthy. “Obviously at this level, you have to be physically skilled; everybody in the league is. But not everybody that’s physically skilled can be a successful backup quarterback or be ready to go.
“You have to have the right mental makeup. What that is, I haven’t been able to pinpoint it.”
Whatever it is, because Flynn has it, he will return to Seattle for Thursday’s NFL regular-season opener against the defending Super Bowl-champion Seahawks at the ready if disaster strikes again, as it did last year. He appreciates that he’s the guy no Packers fans wants to see play a meaningful snap this season but is ready to do so if called upon.
After losing competitions for the starting quarterback job in Seattle in 2012 (to Russell Wilson) and Oakland in 2013 (to Terrelle Pryor), Flynn returned to Green Bay last season when Rodgers (collarbone) and journeyman backup Seneca Wallace (groin) each suffered injuries in back-to-back weeks. After Wallace’s injury, Tolzien took over and had some up-and-down performances before Flynn led the Packers to a 2-2-1 record in the five games in which he played, starting with a Nov. 24 tie with Minnesota.
On Saturday, Flynn survived the final cuts even though the Packers hadn’t kept three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster since his rookie year in 2008, and even though on a perpetual youth-movement team like the Packers, Tolzien had youth (26, compared to 29) and potential upside on his side. Tolzien had an impressive preseason, has only gotten better since signing with the team the week of the regular-season opener last year and has remade his game from respectable game-manager at the University of Wisconsin to stronger-armed, confident downfield thrower this summer.
As big of a cop out as it sounds, I tried not to think about it,” Flynn said of Saturday’s uncertainty. “Yeah, I was nervous just like everybody else was – well, 75 percent of the people [were]. I didn’t really know what to expect, what to think.”
In preseason play, Tolzien completed 38 of 56 passes (67.9 percent) for 477 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 112.0. Flynn, who started the preseason opener and preseason finale when Rodgers didn’t play, was 18 of 38 (47.4 percent) for 232 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a 82.3 rating.
But here’s the thing Flynn has in his favor, and it’s not something to be easily dismissed: He understands how to be a backup, something he’s done for most of his college and pro careers.
At LSU, Flynn spent his first four seasons as a backup, sitting behind JaMarcus Russell for three years before finally getting to start as a fifth-year senior, when he led the Tigers to the BCS title. He then won the No. 2 job in 2008 as a seventh-round pick – beating out second-round pick Brian Brohm – and backed up Rodgers from 2008 through 2011 before signing with the Seahawks as a free agent.
For a guy who was so angry about – and motivated by – being the varsity backup at his high school as a sophomore that he went out and hired a personal trainer and worked day and night to win the starting job back as a junior, it’s not easy to simply resign oneself to being a No. 2. But if that’s Flynn’s lot in life, he at least knows the secret to being good at it now.
“It’s the ability to be able to prepare yourself and to improve yourself without the reps that the starter gets,” Flynn said. “Whether it was a skill that acquired or a skill that I had, I don’t know, I’ve just seemed to have always been able to have that ability to – at least in my mind – to be able to improve myself and prepare myself for a game with just watching.”
Flynn knows that’s the hope – that all he’ll do is watch. With that in mind, he made it clear what his priority is now: “Getting 12 ready,” he said.
Just as Rodgers did when he backed up Brett Favre from 2005 through 2007, Flynn and Tolzien do various scouting reports and film breakdowns during the course of the week to give Rodgers extra information for his preparation. As they do that, Flynn said, they’re also preparing themselves.
“Our job is to give him any information that he needs throughout the week in preparation,” Flynn said. “Whether that’s me going back and watching technique of DBs, watching technique of defensive tackles, trying to get keys in – it’s about talking through plays with him, talking through the game plan with him, giving him different points of view on how things are going to play out, different points of view on how things are going to work and just trying to make sure he’s comfortable with everything.
“[And] any studying that I’m doing to help him is helping me, too. If you know it good enough to teach it, then you know it well enough. If I’m going and studying their defense enough to go and relay to him anything I see, then it’s making my knowledge better.”
Although Flynn hasn’t been able to give much insight into the Seahawks offense (“That was four teams ago,” he joked) and hasn’t talked about being on the other side of the infamous Fail Mary in 2012 (“It wasn’t that long ago, but it seems like a long time ago”), both he and Rodgers said Sunday that they’re glad it worked out that all three quarterbacks were kept.
“It’s great,” Rodgers said. “[I’m] excited for them, playing so well. They both deserve to be on the roster, and it’s good to have them both in the room.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.