GREEN BAY — Training camp was only a couple of days old when DeShone Kizer politely disagreed with the narrative.
At the time, the Green Bay Packers quarterback room was significantly different than it is today. Aaron Rodgers was healthy — not hobbling around with a painful left knee injury that has his availability in doubt for Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. Brett Hundley was still on the roster as the incumbent No. 2 — not in the Pacific Northwest, having been traded to the Seattle Seahawks late in camp. Tim Boyle was a little-known camp arm — not the surprising undrafted rookie who forced his way on to the 53-man roster with a strong summer.
And Kizer, acquired in a March trade from Cleveland, was the guy coach Mike McCarthy was extolling as a talent who would’ve been a first-round draft pick had he stayed at Notre Dame another year. The guy who was the youngest starting quarterback in the NFL the previous season, starting 15 games — all losses — as a rookie for the winless Browns. The guy whose athleticism, size, speed and football intellect caused the word “potential” to be used with him so many times that it should’ve been his middle name. (Which, for the record, is actually Allen.)
So it stood to reason that despite Hundley’s struggles in place of an injured Rodgers the previous season, Kizer — with the coaches breaking down his less-than-ideal fundamentals, with the intent of rebuilding him — would spend 2018 as the third-stringer, able to take a step back and learn by watching Rodgers, arguably the best in the business.
Kizer was having none of it.
“Potential is no longer potential. It’s here,” he said that late-July afternoon. “There’s only so much time in your career for you to go out and prove who you are. Consistently, the message about me has been, ‘There’s a lot of potential there.’ But can you go out there and show everyone what you can do? Now, it’s about showing that that potential is here.
“For me, there’s only a certain amount of time I can have as a young guy. Eventually, you have to be able to go out and show you can play. This organization has been able to show some patience when it comes to developing guys, which is awesome, but this industry has proven time-in and time-out that if you can’t go out there and do exactly what you’re supposed to do, you’re going to get left behind.”
Suffice it to say, Kizer’s two-series debut in Sunday night’s Rodgers-engineered 24-23 comeback win over Chicago was exactly the opposite of what McCarthy and the offensive coaches were looking for. And with Rodgers missing his second straight practice on Thursday, a repeat performance — if Kizer is called upon again — won’t cut it.
Two series, two turnovers
After stringing together three straight completions to get the Packers into a first-and-goal at Chicago’s 10-yard line, Kizer’s night turned disastrous. That first possession ended when Bears defensive end Khalil Mack stole the ball from him on a strip/sack to keep at least three points off the board. On the next possession, Kizer took a 9-yard sack with less than a minute left in the half, then threw an errant screen pass that Mack intercepted and returned 27 yards for a touchdown.
“You can’t play quarterback — period — if you don’t take care of the football,” McCarthy said. “DeShone definitely needs to learn from those two plays. (Given) what went on last year (in Cleveland), he’s (still) a rookie, he’s young. But definitely, you have to take care of the football. If you don’t take care of the football, you’re not long for playing with the Green Bay Packers. That’s an absolute.”
McCarthy bristled at the suggestion Kizer didn’t appear to be an upgrade over Hundley, who went 3-6 as the starter a year ago — “To sit here and talk about comparables after one game, I don’t think that’s very practical,” he said — but if Rodgers is able to play against the Vikings, Kizer will again be on sideline baseball cap-and-clipboard duty.
That would mean learning from his two colossal mistakes while not having an immediate opportunity to atone for them.
“Obviously, there’s those two plays and they’re going to hang in the back of my (head) throughout this week,” Kizer said. “That’s just going to be the motivation to make sure I’m putting a little extra emphasis on keeping two hands on the ball in the pocket and just trying to keep the ball out of harm’s way as much as possible.”
As far as making up for his mistakes, perhaps Rodgers starts Sunday, makes it through the game unscathed, continues to play while the knee improves and Kizer only sees action in mop-up duty in blowout wins from here on out.
That would be just fine with him.
“I’ll hopefully be able to learn quite a bit of that from Aaron and be prepared if my number is called,” Kizer said. “There were some good plays out there. There were some bad plays out there and some things to work on. Again, the biggest emphasis now is proving to my teammates that when the ball is in my hands, they can trust (me).
“I want to win a Super Bowl. I think obviously we have the best player in the league in our locker room. If he’s ready to go, I’m looking forward to cheering him on and doing whatever I can to help him. It’s also my duty and job to make sure I’m ready to go just in case he’s not.”