GREEN BAY – The caller sounded confused. He wondered why we were still discussing Harrell’s future in Green Bay.
“The Packers already cut Justin Harrell, didn’t they?” he said.
No, we explained, the conversation was centered on Graham Harrell’s future, rather than Justin Harrell’s past. However, the fact that one might be mistaken for the other speaks volumes about the Packers’ concerns at backup quarterback.
Whether Graham Harrell can earn enough trust to win the job remains to be seen, beginning Thursday night when the Packers host Kansas City in the preseason finale.
Harrell likely will start with the Packers’ No. 1 offense, an opportunity that should be illuminating and instructive. Harrell won’t be subjected to inferior pass blocking, an ineffective running attack or inept receivers.
On the contrary, Harrell will be surrounded by a cast of players good enough to earn Matt Flynn a $20 million contract to be Russell Wilson’s backup in Seattle. At the least, Harrell should be able to stave off B.J. Coleman given the same chance.
The guess here is that Harrell plays reasonably well against the Chiefs, certainly well enough to convince head coach Mike McCarthy to keep him as Aaron Rodgers’ understudy.
If Harrell should somehow fail the test, it begs the question: Where do the Packers go from there? I’ll cross that controversy if necessary – and I doubt Cleveland’s Colt McCoy is the answer.
Harrell outlasted defensive end Anthony Hargrove who was released last Friday along with offensive tackle Herb Taylor, receiver Andrew Brewer, cornerback Dion Turner and safety Micah Pellerin.
The Packers’ roster must be reduced from 85 to 75 by 3 p.m. today.
Hargrove’s release qualifies as the greatest surprise thus far, although it probably suggests the current defensive linemen are playing at least well enough to convince GM Ted Thompson and McCarthy that they can fill the rotation without Harrell.
It also may be a vote of confidence to third-year pro Mike Neal, who will open the season by serving a four-game suspension. Apparently, the Packers decided they could deal with cutting one defensive lineman to make room for Neal after four weeks, but not another to make room for Hargrove after eight weeks.
On the bright side, the Packers’ offense and defense played much better in Green Bay’s 27-13 victory at Cincinnati last Thursday night.
Cedric Benson brings a dash of explosiveness and a whole lot of experience to the running game. It gives Rodgers a legitimate, bona fide play-action option, and it gives McCarthy an opportunity for balance.
It’s like the old saying, “The very best offenses pass when they want to, not when they have to.”
With Benson, the Packers have several good choices. Certainly, Benson’s arrival and performance cast doubt on James Starks’ future. I can’t see the Packers keeping both Benson and Starks with more important needs in the offensive line and the defensive secondary.
Starks isn’t eligible for the physically unable to perform (PUP) list because he already practiced during training camp. Perhaps Brandon Saine can get healthy and do enough against Kansas City to win a job.
Receiver Greg Jennings looked as explosive as ever, and tight end Jermichael Finley got in two strong days of practice after missing Thursday’s game to be with his wife, Courtney, who gave birth to London Dash Finley.
Defensively, the Packers at least got a few hits on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, and showed a semblance of run defense. Pass rushers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry provided pressure from the outside, and Jerel Worthy and B.J. Raji did likewise up the middle.
Cornerback Tramon Williams looked sharp, and safety Morgan Burnett also played well.
After the strong showing last Thursday, the Packers can use the preseason finale to stay sharp, and to determine if Graham Harrell should be the Packers’ backup quarterback.
Then it’s the final roster cuts and on to the regular season.
Chris Havel is a Packers News expert and national best-selling author. His latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ Player Autograph Parties the evening before home games.