GREEN BAY – When Tim Boyle came to Green Bay – both before the NFL Draft on a pre-draft visit, and again after it when the Packers signed him as an undrafted free agent – he knew exactly what he was up against.
He knew the Packers were not in the market for a starting quarterback. (They’ve got this Aaron Rodgers fellow; perhaps you’ve heard of him.) And he knew the two candidates for the primary backup job were Brett Hundley (who’d played in 10 games last season because of Rodgers’ fractured right collarbone) and DeShone Kizer (who’d started 15 games for the Cleveland Browns and whom coach Mike McCarthy believed would’ve been a first-round pick this year had he stayed at Notre Dame for another year).
But Boyle wasn’t fazed. His college career at Connecticut and Eastern Kentucky didn’t go as he’d hoped – he struggled in three years at UConn and didn’t exactly set FCS (previously Division I-AA) on fire at Eastern Kentucky – but he always thought he had the ability to make a run at a spot on an NFL roster.
During the Packers’ 31-17 preseason-opening victory over the Tennessee Titans, Boyle showed exactly that.
“I think I belong here,” Boyle said after he completed 7 of 15 passes for 130 yards with two touchdowns for a 116.7 passer rating. “I struggled at UConn, didn’t have a great year at EKU, and a lot of people had question marks about me. But I always believed in myself and my drive, and this kind of cemented the fact that I belong here.
“I think I have a career here.”
Realistically, Boyle’s performance against the Titans was merely the first step toward making the Packers’ roster decisions at quarterback more difficult. But stranger things have happened, as proven by Joe Callahan’s journey from Division III unknown from tiny Wesleyan College to the 53-man roster after Hundley missed most of the 2016 preseason with an ankle injury.
And, Boyle’s showing Thursday night certainly got Rodgers’ attention – the two-time NFL MVP could be seen skipping down the sideline celebrating Boyle’s 52-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to former UW-Whitewater star Jake Kumerow – and McCarthy’s, too.
“I mean, he’s definitely got the talent. There’s no denying that. You could see it right away when he came out here,” McCarthy said. “(We’re) just trying to give him some opportunities to make some plays. And I thought he did a really good job staying to what he’s comfortable doing.”
McCarthy explained that Boyle focused his attention mostly to backside routes, where his receivers – including Kumerow and Equanimeous St. Brown, who had a 28-yard catch-and-run earlier – had 1-on-1 coverage. But Boyle’s other touchdown pass, a 15-yarder to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, was to the play side and was a perfectly-placed throw that Titans safety Joshua Kalu never saw.
“He made a heck of a catch and made me look good,” Boyle said.
The touchdown to Kumerow was also a well-thrown ball that hit Kumerow in stride at the Titans’ 14-yard line and showed off Boyle’s big arm – the one thing that was never in question during his college career and was among the reasons scout Chad Brinker pushed for the Packers to sign Boyle despite his less-than-stellar college numbers.
At UConn, he played in 27 games over three seasons and under three different head coaches – completing only 48.4 percent of his passes while throwing only one touchdown against 13 interceptions. He then transferred to Eastern Kentucky, where after a redshirt year he threw for 2,134 yards with 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a senior last season on a 4-7 Colonels team.
The Packers liked what they saw from Boyle in the rookie orientation camp enough that they released Callahan, who’d spent time on their active roster each of the previous two seasons. At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, Boyle, who turns 24 in October, certainly looked the part of NFL quarterback more so than Callahan, and looked prepared against the Titans despite limited snaps in practice because he’s been the fourth quarterback in the rotation.
“My game plan going into this training camp was ‘do me,’” Boyle explained. “It’s team-first, obviously, but I’m not going to worry about who is the starter, who is the backup, who is the third string. I’m just going to run the plays they give me, do the best I can, let the chips fall where they may.
“The big thing for me is I’ve just got to chip away at earning people’s respect. Being obviously a free agent rookie, you kind of come in and (other players) are doing their thing as a veteran or a big-time receiver or quarterback. But I think as I progress, as I earn more trust, I think they give me a little bit more respect, which is nice. The older guys definitely have been showing me that they respect me more, which is awesome. I’ve just got to grow that and instill the confidence in them that I have in myself.
“I always thought deep down that I had a chance. But now that it’s happening, it’s really surreal, honestly. It’s nice knowing that I can play at this level and succeed. It gives me a lot of confidence going into future weeks.”
Safety Josh Jones, who left Thursday night’s game to be evaluated for a concussion, said Saturday that he was not in fact diagnosed with a concussion. … The Packers return to Ray Nitschke Field on Sunday for their next open practice, and McCarthy said Tuesday’s session, their last open practice, was poor. “Our practice on Tuesday was our worst practice of the year,” McCarthy said. … Cornerback Kevin King (shoulder) said he didn’t know if he’d practice on Sunday but said his injury isn’t nearly as worrisome as the major shoulder injury he played through last year before season-ending surgery. “I’ll be cool,” King said with a smile. … McCarthy said he decided to start Byron Bell over Jason Spriggs at right tackle not long before the game. ”That was a coach’s decision,” McCarthy said. “That was a decision I made later in the day Wednesday or even Thursday morning.”