Arms race

As Brian Brohm gets his shot with second team, Matt Flynn progresses with his first

By Tom Pelissero
tpelisse@greenbaypressgazette.com

Matt Flynn smiles and says he wishes Brian Brohm all the luck in the world, even if on some level Flynn surely finds this a bit unfair.

That Brohm is expected to make his first NFL start Sunday for the Buffalo Bills.

That Flynn -- Brohm's 2008 draft classmate and the better quarterback throughout their 18 1/2 months together with the Green Bay Packers -- won't have the same opportunity here as long as Aaron Rodgers is in one piece.

Brohm was the second-round pick, the star, the one who arrived with all the expectations he never met.

Flynn was the seventh-rounder, the flyer, the one who simply outperformed Brohm so consistently he seized the No. 2 job by the end of their first training camp.

Brohm was so bad the Packers cut him in September, re-signed him to the practice squad almost out of obligation and then declined to match the $10,000 bonus the Bills offered to join their 53-man roster on Nov. 18.

Little more than a month later, and with only three days of first-team reps on his side, Brohm will be under center against the Atlanta Falcons.

Flynn?

He stands next to Brohm's old locker after another day running the scout team -- another day running someone else's offense that could be his own someday -- and says he's confident he'll be ready when his time comes.

"I feel like if you're in this league and you don't want to be a starter, you don't want to play for a long time, you're in it for the wrong reasons," Flynn said this past week. "I want to be in the league a long time, and I want to be a starter."

Flynn knows the names around the league -- Houston's Matt Schaub, Kansas City's Matt Cassel, Carolina's Jake Delhomme and Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck, who will start against his old team Sunday at Lambeau Field -- of guys who spent years as backups one place before getting their own team someplace else.

And while it's too soon to say Flynn is destined for the same path, there is mounting optimism not only about Flynn's readiness as Rodgers' backup, but of Flynn's chances for success if he goes the way of Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell and Aaron Brooks, netting something in a trade along the way.

"I don't even know if that's Matt Flynn from Year 1 to Year 2, to be honest with you," receiver James Jones said. "He's gotten tremendously better. If he would get an opportunity, whether it's here or somewhere else -- man, he's going to be a good player."

Why Brohm failed

Without taking anything away from Flynn's play in the spring and summer of 2008, Brohm opened the door for his lower-rated counterpart's ascent with his inability to play fast in the Packers offense.

Before his senior season at Louisville in 2007, Brohm was projected by some as the draft's No. 1 overall pick, which could have netted him a contract including upwards of $30 million in guarantees instead of the $900,000 signing bonus he got from the Packers. (Flynn, picked 209th, signed for $64,175.)

But by April 2008, many teams -- including the Packers -- had Brohm rated as no more than a high second-round selection, and he slid all the way to Green Bay at No. 56.

That provided one of several blows to Brohm's confidence, which he admitted took a major hit when his first preseason pass was intercepted. He began to take something off his throws, finished the preseason with a 45.2 passer rating and watched as Flynn led three touchdown drives to leapfrog him on the depth chart.

"I thought that was a great move by Flynn by taking control and improving," said tight end Jermichael Finley, another member of the 2008 draft class. "Flynn is smart, makes the smart decisions. I think Brohm came in -- not talking down on Brohm -- came in with more hype and more (expectations), too. That could have been a big issue. I'd take Flynn over Brohm any day."

Though coach Mike McCarthy raved about Brohm's quick progression in the classroom, it never showed on the field, nor did he show the sort of natural command a team needs in the huddle.

It confirmed fears the Packers had before the draft about how Brohm's family had coddled him throughout his career. His father, Oscar, was his quarterbacks coach in high school, and his brother, Jeff, was his quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator at Louisville.

The Packers believed Brohm would take a step forward once he got away. Instead, the opposite happened, even as his family continued to try to protect him.

On Aug. 26, Jeff Brohm e-mailed a 359-word diatribe to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, accusing a reporter of falsifying practice statistics and showing "an obvious bias shown toward the other QB in camp and a purposeful desire to only write the negative (which many times are completely false) on Brian."

Ten days later, Brian Brohm was released.

"It was definitely humbling," Brohm told reporters in Buffalo this past week. "I think in the end, hopefully, it will make me a better player, a better person, and it kept me pushing to work hard every single day."

Why Flynn is succeeding

Flynn came from a football family as well. His father, Alvin, was a three-year letter-winner at Baylor University and helped mold the approach Flynn still follows today: relax, take nothing too seriously and have fun.

Though Flynn only started for one season at LSU -- in 2007, when the Tigers won the national championship a year after graduating No. 1 overall draft pick JaMarcus Russell -- and had only an average-to-good NFL arm, McCarthy pushed hard to draft him because he thought Flynn had the right attitude to get better at the next level.

"I saw that maturation throughout the quarterback school" this spring, McCarthy said. "He's throwing with more velocity than he did last year. His time clock is quicker, which it has to be from Year 1 to Year 2. That's the biggest improvement that I've seen in quarterbacks when they go from their first to second year.

"Just the anticipation that he's playing with, and really running the opponent squad week in and week out against our defense is extremely helpful, because he's seen every pressure look that's in football, and the ability to have quality reps like that -- I think he's really improved."

Flynn (6-foot-2, 222 pounds) always points to his footwork as the greatest area of improvement, since he never did dropback-specific work in college. Teammates say he's far calmer in the huddle now than in 2008, when he was a shaky 2-for-5 passing in his only significant game action. He's also developed a reputation for taking game preparation seriously even though he's gotten to throw only eight regular-season passes.

"I look at each week as an opportunity to get a feel for personnel on different teams, get a feel for different styles of offense -- just really study the game," Flynn said. "When you're prepared each week, it's a great learning tool for me for one day, hopefully, when I'm a starter somewhere. If ever something happens (and) I'm a starter somewhere one day, I'm going to be playing the same guys."

Flynn's skills stack up in the range of Delhomme, who spent three of his five seasons with New Orleans under McCarthy's tutelage before going on to a solid run with the Panthers. And Flynn has the same sort of competitive nature that propelled another onetime McCarthy pupil, Rich Gannon, to go from longtime backup to NFL MVP late in his career.

Flynn probably is another year away from teams coming after him -- next preseason will be telling -- but he's just as convinced he can take that next step as the one he took by beating out Brohm last summer.

Asked whether he ever doubted he would stick in the NFL, Flynn replied instantly, "No. Not a doubt in my mind.

"I was confident in myself that I could do it. If you come to play quarterback and you aren't confident, you're in trouble."

That's one major reason Flynn will continue his progression from the sideline Sunday at Lambeau Field while Brohm, a failure in his first NFL stop, will be trying to take a big step toward salvaging his career in his second.

**

Trade bait

Former Packers GM Ron Wolf used mid- to late-round draft picks on several quarterbacks who later were traded and had successful NFL careers someplace else. Here are the three most notable:

April 22, 1995: Traded QB Mark Brunell to Jacksonville for third- (FB William Henderson) and fifth-round (RB Travis Jervey) picks.
* A fifth-round pick in 1993, Brunell had thrown 27 passes in two NFL seasons. He's now thrown for 31,826 yards and 182 TDs and is a three-time Pro Bowl selection with three teams. He still is a backup in New Orleans.

July 31, 2000: Traded QB Aaron Brooks and TE Lamont Hall to New Orleans for third-round pick (later traded) and LB K.D. Williams.
* A fourth-round pick in 1999, Brooks never played in a game with the Packers. He went on to throw for 20,261 yards and 123 TDs in seven seasons with two teams. He last played in 2006.

March 5, 2001: Traded QB Matt Hasselbeck and a first-round pick to Seattle for first- (DE Jamal Reynolds) and third-round (LB Torrance Marshall) picks.
* A sixth-round pick in 1998, Hasselbeck had thrown 29 passes in two NFL seasons. He now has thrown for 26,205 yards and 162 TDs and is a three-time Pro Bowl selection. He'll start against the Packers Sunday.