GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy is excited about working with DeShone Kizer. Really excited.
That’s why the Green Bay Packers coach was gushing about his new quarterbacking pupil during last weekend’s rookie orientation camp — a camp that Kizer, who started 15 games as a rookie last season with the Cleveland Browns, didn’t even participate in. But in the wake of an NFL draft in which five quarterbacks went in the first round — and four went in the first 10 picks — McCarthy had plenty to say about Kizer when he came up during his Q&A session with reporters on Saturday.
“He has starter ability in this league — clearly,” McCarthy said. “In my opinion, if he was in that (draft) class this year, he would’ve been part of that group, the first-round guys. I think he has exceptional arm talent.”
Now, to be fair, it wouldn’t be the first time McCarthy got a little carried away when talking publicly about a backup quarterback.
Remember, in the immediate aftermath of Aaron Rodgers’ broken right collarbone last October, McCarthy said he felt his quarterback room was “exactly where it needs to be” with Brett Hundley taking over as the starter and Joe Callahan moving up from the No. 3 spot. And when Hundley struggled, McCarthy repeatedly backed him publicly, going so far after the season to say his struggles were “blown out of proportion,” pointing out the mistakes made around him and insisting Hundley did “a heck of a job” in the nine games he started.
And earlier this offseason, when asked about Hundley’s struggles during a conversation with reporters the annual NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in February, McCarthy said, “I believe in Brett Hundley.” He also added multiple times that Hundley still has “a big upside.”
And, it’s worth pointing out, when McCarthy says something during a news conference — with the beat writers Tweeting, the team website live-streaming and the fans listening — the messaging isn’t necessarily directed anyone in the media auditorium or tuning in elsewhere. As he said in the same press briefing in which he expressed his confidence in Hundley after Rodgers’ injury, “frankly, I know you think I'm talking to you guys, I'm really talking to our football team.”
That’s what McCarthy was doing with his comments about the defense this offseason, when he said he expected that unit to be “better than the offense” and that he was “sick and tired of our defense feeling like the stepchild.” He acknowledged at the NFL meetings in March that he said those things not so much for public consumption as for a confidence boost for the oft-criticized group on that side of the ball.
All that said, McCarthy’s comments about Kizer last weekend weren’t just hyperbole. The Packers liked him enough to seriously consider drafting him a year ago, when Kizer left Notre Dame after his redshirt sophomore season and went No. 52 overall to the Browns. And whatever you may think of ex-Packers cornerback Damarious Randall, new general manager Brian Gutekunst was willing to give up a player who’d been the team’s 2015 first-round pick to add Kizer and move up a few spots on Day 3 of the draft.
While McCarthy lamented the limited practice time the 2011 collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association allows during the offseason — McCarthy has long been frustrated with the limitations, especially how they’ve impacted his annual offseason quarterback school — he clearly believes that he, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti Jr. have a lot to work with in Kizer.
“What we’re asking him to do is (makes some adjustments) — particularly the footwork and just how he fits the scheme,” McCarthy said. “How he operate is brand new to him. That always excites me, because when you see that guy has no experience or background but has the ability, to me that’s an opportunity for a lot of growth. So I think he has a bright future.”
In his 15 starts last season, Kizer completed just 52 percent of his passes while throwing 11 touchdowns against a league-high 22 interceptions (60.5 passer rating). While he said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters after the trade that he wouldn’t swap the year of NFL experience he gained for another year at Notre Dame and first-round draft status, he also acknowledged the potential value of spending the 2018 season behind Rodgers, assuming he wins the No. 2 job over Hundley.
“I think it’s going to definitely help my development,” Kizer said. “Obviously (in Cleveland) I quickly became the veteran in the room. There wasn’t necessarily a guy who could teach me the ins and outs of how to deal with press (coverage), how to deal with the losing that was going on, how to deal with the veterans in the (locker) room and the dynamic of the locker room.
“So being behind Aaron, it’s going to be cool to be able to learn that. … (Now) I get to learn from somebody who’s had a lot of success and, obviously, is known as one of the better quarterbacks in this league and one of the better quarterbacks to ever play this game. Now I get to take a step back, learn from him, re-evaluate my process as a quarterback and do whatever I can to help this team win and obviously develop myself into the best quarterback that I can be.”