NFL: Harrell shaky, out to prove he can back up Rodgers
|The Cleveland Browns' Auston English (94) causes Packers quarterback Graham Harrell to intentionally ground the ball from the end zone for a safety during the second half of their preseason game Thursday in Green Bay, Wis. (AP)|
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – If everything goes as planned for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, it's an issue that won't come up all season.
The issue being turnovers.
A reliable backup quarterback can be a critical cog that keeps a potential Super Bowl contender on track if there's a rough patch during the season. And right now, it's unclear whether Graham Harrell is ready for the job.
The former Texas Tech star struggled in the Packers' preseason loss to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night, completing 12 of 24 passes for 100 yards with two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He also was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety.
Harrell wasn't happy with the performance but said it didn't shake his confidence.
"That's the key, is to score points and finish drives," Harrell said afterward. "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."
Packers general manager Ted Thompson passed on the chance to pick up a veteran backup after Matt Flynn signed with Seattle in the offseason.
Harrell has shown ability and increased arm strength during training camp, but Thursday's shaky performance is dredging up questions about whether he's ready.
It didn't help that Browns backup Colt McCoy, a player the Packers were linked to in trade rumors this offseason, looked sharp as he led a touchdown drive in the third quarter. The Browns went on to win 35-10, sending the Packers to an 0-2 start to the preseason.
That said, neither interception was primarily Harrell's fault. One came on a desperation pass just before halftime, and the other came after a receiver slipped and fell.
"He had a couple hard-luck interceptions," Rodgers said.
And any quarterback would be challenged to play with a mishmash of inexperienced second- and third-string players – particularly when facing the Browns' defensive starters.
"I'm sure he wants to clean a few things up, but he got into a rhythm there in the fourth quarter on that drive," Rodgers said. "We've got a lot of confidence in Graham. We're not worried about him. They kept their first-team defense in for the majority of the first half, I think the whole first half, and I know what that's like at times."
Rodgers recalled his first few years as a backup, when the Packers played the Tennessee Titans in the preseason and then-coach Jeff Fisher played his defensive starters deep into the game.
"And that's difficult, especially when you're playing against Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch and Keith Bulluck and [Cortland] Finnegan and those guys," Rodgers said.
After coming out of Thursday's game, Rodgers did his best to help Harrell on the sideline.
"Well, Aaron's always trying to coach," Harrell said. "He was kind of saying what he sees and what he thinks and different things like that. He's just always trying to help out over there."
For Rodgers, it was another example of going out of his way to serve as a mentor to the Packers' younger quarterbacks.
"I like to stay in the game," Rodgers said. "I obviously care about Graham and want him to do well."
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