GREEN BAY – As they sat in their meeting room earlier this offseason, new Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti Jr. stopped the practice playback to highlight something the guy on the video — Aaron Rodgers — had done during a drill. Cignetti wanted his younger pupils — Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer and Tim Boyle — to take note.
“I made a comment to him that, ‘Man, you put so many great examples on tape for Brett and DeShone and Tim to watch how you do it,’” Cignetti recalled this week as the Packers went through their annual minicamp without Rodgers, who was one of the 16 veterans coach Mike McCarthy excused from the three-day session.
“And I’ll never forget it. Aaron said, ‘Well, Frank, it’s taken a long time to get there.’ So when you look at Brett, and you look at DeShone and Tim, these guys are young, and it takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in one offseason. That’s why every day is so important. You accumulate the repetitions.”
And during the minicamp, Kizer more than anyone is trying to accumulate those repetitions, and make them count. Hundley is entering his fourth season and started 10 games last year because Rodgers broke his collarbone. Boyle is an undrafted rookie free agent from Eastern Kentucky just trying to keep his head above water.
But for Kizer, who started 15 games as a rookie second-round pick last year for the winless Cleveland Browns before being traded to the Packers in March, this is a vital time — playing on a new team, adjusting to a new system, learning new techniques. And with McCarthy having said earlier this offseason he believes Kizer would have been a first-round pick this year had he not left Notre Dame following his redshirt sophomore season, there’s nobody more motivated or more intent on proving himself during this three-day, veteran-free minicamp than Kizer.
“It’s awesome. It (has been) an offseason of trying to make some corrections off of a tough first year. This is my opportunity to correct those,” Kizer said following Wednesday’s practice. “Obviously, in the position of being behind Aaron, you can’t expect to go out there and get game reps and prove your corrections there. This is my time to prove myself. It’s been some valuable reps so far, and looking forward to finishing it off (today).
“The confidence is here now. Now, it’s about going out and showing that I can be a consistent quarterback. It’s kind of universally known that the ability is there and the potential is there. Now, it’s about going out every day and every rep and proving myself.”
Kizer certainly struggled — as did the Browns as a whole — as a rookie last season, completing just 52 percent of his passes while throwing 11 touchdowns against a league-high 22 interceptions (60.5 passer rating).
How much of that was a function of his surrounding cast and inexperience is hard to say, and it’s clear the Packers coaches have tried to break him down and build him back up this offseason in terms of his fundamentals. McCarthy, Cignetti and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin have focused on Kizer’s footwork and how it is connected to his timing and throwing motion.
“It’s always a continual work in progress,” Philbin said. “I definitely see strides, he looks smoother, he looks a little more fluid. I think his tempo is increasing as well. So, I like the strides he’s making. I wouldn’t say all the way there yet.
“I absolutely do (see improvement). I think he’s made some really good progress, and yet there’s still a lot of room for development, too.“
For instance, on Tuesday, Kizer had a terrific deep-ball throw to former UW-Whitewater wide receiver Jake Kumerow during the 2-minute drill. During Wednesday’s 2-minute drill, Kizer’s group didn’t even reach the red zone.
“DeShone is doing a lot of good things. I think it’s like any player, particularly the quarterback position. You come in the volume of terminology, new terminology, new language,” McCarthy said. “We have a number of different concepts compared to his experience in the past. (But) I think he’s making really good progress.”
Whether he makes more significant progress during training camp and in the preseason will decide whether he’ll usurp Hundley as the primary backup behind Rodgers. After an up-and-down showing as the starter last season, Hundley hasn’t been particularly impressive this offseason during open-to-the-media practices, either.
“You watch guys that do it at the highest level and you learn from them,” Kizer said. “I think, obviously, I have a guy two lockers down from me (in Rodgers) who’s continued to do that throughout his pro career and has been a great role model for me to take mental reps, watching him go about it.
“In this league, it’s all about stringing together positive plays, whether it is those tough throws or if it’s simply making sure you’re checking the run play when you’re supposed to. When you can string together a bunch of positive plays, it can turn into momentum and turn into points.”