Harrell still has plenty to prove

Harrell still has plenty to prove

While votes of confidence don’t guarantee anything – ask any coach or general manager in NFL history who got one and later got canned anyway – it seemed noteworthy that Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy opted not to give backup quarterback Graham Harrell one on Friday.

McCarthy has been vocal in his support of Harrell, who has struggled throughout the team’s three preseason games, but when asked directly whether Harrell will be NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers’ backup when the season starts Sept. 9 against San Francisco, the coach went to his tried-and-true line about personnel decisions in preseason.

“We don’t make roster decisions today,” McCarthy said Friday after Harrell completed just 5 of 12 passes for 26 yards (49.3 rating) in the Packers’ 27-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday night.

“There’s still plenty of work to be done with three more practices. We have a game (next Thursday against Kansas City). Graham will play in that game and have more opportunities.”

Then, McCarthy added: “Graham Harrell improved from the first two weeks. Last night, he graded out higher than the first two weeks. He’s making improvement. … As a whole, I thought the offense was one of our better performances of the preseason, but we still have work to do. In Graham’s particular case, I’m happy with his progress.”

Harrell was handed the No. 2 job behind Rodgers after backup Matt Flynn left as a free agent this spring. Flynn, viewed as one of the best backups in the league last year, got a $10 million signing bonus from the Seattle Seahawks but may lose out to rookie third-round pick Russell Wilson, the ex-University of Wisconsin quarterback, for the starting job there.

In three preseason games, Harrell has completed 32 of 63 passes for 261 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 53.7, leading to harsh criticism from some quadrants of the franchise’s fervent fan base. Several well-respected national NFL reporters – ESPN’s Adam Schefter, CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora and Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole – have either posited or reported that the Packers have expressed interest in trading for Cleveland’s Colt McCoy or Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson

“There was some positive and there was plenty that we can improve on again,” Harrell said of his performance against the Bengals. “The Bengals brought some different pressures and stuff and did a decent job on defense, and we did some decent things. It’s all about trying to handle that and get better. We did some positives things, and there’s plenty that we’ll watch film on and say we can do better. But we just have to keep trying to get better.”

McCarthy did defend Harrell immediately after the game, explaining that injuries at tight end and running back forced him to alter the play-calling game-plan, to Harrell’s detriment.

“Graham and the second unit, we ran plays that we didn’t practice this week. Now that’s not (an excuse), that’s happened before, it happens in-season, but unfortunately, for that to happen with your second group is probably not the way you wanted to go,” McCarthy said. “That’s something that you won’t see but we’ll take into account in his grade. That’s a great experience for Graham Harrell to learn from.

“He’s in command of the offense, whether you’re aware of that or not. It’s part of the preseason football. We’re not putting a Band-Aid on it. He’s trying to play above it. I thought he definitely improved.”

Harrell will have one more chance to prove himself against the Chiefs, as Rodgers isn’t expected to play more than a series. In the 2010 preseason finale against the Chiefs, Rodgers didn’t even suit up. McCarthy seemed to dismiss the idea of playing Harrell behind the No. 1 offensive line or with the team’s top receivers, but Harrell is sure to see plenty of playing time, regardless.

“I just like to play. No matter who’s in, I enjoy it,” Harrell said. “We have some great players and it’s always fun to play with those guys. To get to throw to receivers like Jordy (Nelson) and Greg (Jennings), that’s fun. I get to do that in practice and whether or not I get to do that in a game or not, that’s part of it. My goal is just to get better and move the ball and score more than we’re doing. So hopefully we can do that.

“I think the goal is always to have good outings and improve and move the ball and score. Since San Diego, we haven’t gotten the ball in the end zone as a second unit so that’s something we obviously want to do. “To that, you’ve got to cut down on mistakes from my end and everyone else’s end. Hopefully that’s something we can do.”