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Packers’ QB depth looks good behind NFL MVP

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DE PERE, Wisc. — Quarterback Aaron Rodgers played three series longer than he did in the Green Bay Packers first preseason game last season, when he didn’t suit up for action.

Even with Rodgers’ getting the extended playing time at quarterback at the start of exhibition play Thursday night, the Packers still made time to get long looks at their three backups at the position.

Scott Tolzien, rookie Brett Hundley and Matt Blanchard all played after Rodgers handled the first quarter of action in Green Bay’s 22-11 win at the New England Patriots.

After a robust first preseason slate of games with the Packers last summer, Tolzien flourished in four possessions against the Patriots. The fifth-year pro directed the second-team offense to two touchdowns, highlighted by a 26-yard scoring strike to young receiver Jeff Janis late in the second quarter.

“Nice to see Scott being productive, as he should,” said Rodgers, who gave way to Tolzien after completing 11 of 19 passes for 117 yards but with a subpar passer rating of 76.0.

As for Tolzien, he went 10-of-16 passing for 107 yards and the touchdown, exiting the game midway through the third quarter with a sharp efficiency rating of 102.9.

“Aaron is the (reigning NFL) MVP, so it’s hard to match what he does,” Tolzien said. “But, at the same time, I want to learn as much as I can from our coaches, and there’s no better coach than Aaron, too. It’s a great teaching tool. I’m lucky to be in that situation.”

Tolzien has the inside track to starting the season as Rodgers’ top understudy after spending last season as the No. 3 quarterback behind Matt Flynn, who wasn’t re-signed as a free agent.

“I think it’s obvious — he’s a lot more comfortable,” head coach Mike McCarthy said about Tolzien on Saturday. “Just the way he’s practicing, the OTAs (in the spring) and training camp, he’s been very consistent, hasn’t really had too many up-and-down days. I thought he did a nice job against the Patriots.”

Hundley was no less impressive in his unofficial pro debut Thursday.

The fifth-round draft pick from UCLA has become noticeably comfortable running the offense in the last week after a shaky start to the preseason. That manifested itself in game action, as Hundley led all quarterbacks in the game with a sensational passer rating of 138.9 by completing 4 of 6 for 60 yards.

Hundley connected on a 10-yard touchdown pass with undrafted rookie running back John Crockett in the fourth quarter. That was the end of a three-series showing for Hundley.

“I thought Brett did some nice things,” McCarthy said. “The touchdown throw was a nice play.”

Hundley continued to excel in practice Saturday, hooking up with undrafted rookie receiver Larry Pinkard on back-to-back completions of 57 and eight yards, the latter for a touchdown, in a two-minute drill. Hundley also delivered a 31-yard deep ball to Pinkard in Thursday’s game.

“Every day, I’m trying to keep growing and stacking onto the foundation I’ve built,” Hundley said.

Blanchard, a second-year player whose reps in practice have been minimal, saw the field Thursday for the game-ending series. He completed both of his passes for a total of 11 yards, also bettering Rodgers in the passer-efficiency category with a mark of 89.6.

–As set as the Packers are with their top four receivers, an intriguing battle is brewing for the No. 5 spot.

The speedy and athletic Janis, who played sparingly as a rookie last season, is being pushed by Pinkard.

At 6 feet and 196 pounds, Pinkard is giving up three inches to Janis. Yet, Pinkard, who played college ball at Old Dominion, has jumped out since the start of training camp in late July with his playmaking skills.

“I think Pinkard has really come a long way,” Rodgers said last week. “He’s made some good strides over the summer — a very good route runner, very intelligent. The guys who are going to make the biggest jumps are the smartest guys, the guys who study the most.”

Pinkard’s ascent could be coming at the expense of Jared Abbrederis, whose time for making the season-opening roster is running out fast.

Abbrederis, a fifth-round draft pick last year, has been sidelined since he suffered a concussion in the first practice of camp July 30.

McCarthy said Saturday that Abbrederis is “making progress” but still is going through the league-mandated protocol for players with head injuries.

“There’s a number of tests you have to go through, and he hasn’t completed them,” McCarthy said.

Abbrederis, a home-state product who starred at Wisconsin, missed his entire rookie season because of a torn ACL he sustained early in training camp last year.

NOTES: Linebacker Clay Matthews didn’t make the trip to New England and was held out as a precaution after he returned to practice earlier in the week (sore knee). … Among those who did not practice Saturday were left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), defensive end Josh Boyd (knee), tight end Justin Perrillo (concussion)


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