GREEN BAY — There are two things Brett Hundley is focused on doing Thursday night: Getting into a rhythm, and having fun.
The Green Bay Packers’ No. 2 quarterback didn’t get a chance to do much of either last preseason, when an ankle injury demolished what was supposed to be the opportunity of his football lifetime.
So when Hundley takes the field for the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field — he is slated to start the game, with Aaron Rodgers not expected to play as part of the annual plan to limit his preseason exposure — Hundley will be looking to put together the kind of performances he was planning to have last year.
But he doesn’t want to turn preseason games into some sort of summertime Super Bowl, the way other non-starters sometimes do.
“I always feel like, when you overstress or overthink certain situations, you tend to sort of freeze up. For me, my biggest thing going into this year was, just be myself. Go out there, play football,” Hundley said Monday afternoon after taking all of the first-team reps during practice while Rodgers ran the scout team. “Just have fun. That’s one of the core foundations of why I play football. So I try to stick with that, even going into this preseason.”
After a terrific preseason as a rookie fifth-round pick in 2015 while working as the No. 3 quarterback behind Rodgers and Scott Tolzien, Hundley was supposed to get the lion’s share of snaps last preseason, with the Packers set to play five preseason games.
Instead, he sprained his ankle at practice shortly before the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game and wouldn’t have played even if the game hadn’t been canceled due to unplayable field conditions.
Hundley wound up playing in only one exhibition game — in which he re-injured his ankle and left the game early — and finished last preseason having completed 5 of 7 passes for 67 yards. That was a far cry from his production in 2015, when he completed 45 of 65 passes (69.2 percent) for 630 yards with seven touchdowns against just one interception (129.7 rating).
“I couldn’t really care less about what happened last year at this point. It’s, ‘All right, I’m going to go out there and play. If something happens, something happens,’” Hundley said. “When you think about all the past stuff, it does tend to wear you down, and you can’t have that going into games.
“So my thought now is, ‘What happened, happened. Screw injuries, no matter what, go have fun and sling it around a little bit.’”
That’s what the Packers coaches are eager to see Hundley do — along with managing the offense, making the proper checks and adjustments at the line of scrimmage and showing good decision-making.
Quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, who spent most of his NFL playing career with the Buffalo Bills as a backup, remembers the excitement he felt getting to start preseason games – on Monday, he recalled starting the Bills’ 2000 preseason finale in Philadelphia and leading Buffalo to a 16-12 victory – and how important it was for someone who doesn’t play much in the regular season.
“It’s fun. You get that opportunity you want to make the most of it,” Van Pelt said. “I’m excited for Brett to get some action. It’s been a long time for him to get into game reps where he’s going to be playing extensively. It will be big for him. It’s going to be a big preseason. I know he’s preparing like he’s a starter this week and hopefully (we’ll) get him a lot of playing time in this preseason to catch up from last year.”
While Rodgers has been durable during his nine years as the Packers’ starter — he missed seven starts with a broken collarbone in 2013 but has missed just one other start due to injury — the Packers need to see just how much Hundley has improved and how comfortable he is running their offense if disaster strikes .
Asked what he’s looking for from Hundley, Van Pelt said, “Operating within the system, making the checks that he needs to make, any protection adjustments that need to be made. And then after that, just the rhythm of the feet and staying in his time clock and working progressions. I think he’s done a really good job of that. This last week we’re really proud of the way he’s practiced.
“I think he’s taken a big step starting last week in the night practices. I’ve seen some urgency. He’s playing fast right now, he’s playing with confidence. I’m excited to see it roll over to the preseason.”
So is Hundley.
“I feel like this is the time I’ll be able to get some rhythm down,” Hundley said. “I think (rhythm) is the big word or key word — to be able to get going and get into a rhythm as a quarterback and get back out there and have some fun and maybe get hit once or twice.
“I’m just excited to play, excited to be out there and play against somebody.”