Sports Tim Boyle’s against-the-odds journey leads to place on Packers’ 53-man roster
GREEN BAY — Tim Boyle didn’t really need any reminders Saturday that his professional football career was at a crossroads. But the text message that pinged into his phone on his hotel room nightstand certainly removed any doubt.
“I woke up in the morning to a text saying a couple of my friends got cut,” the Green Bay Packers’ new No. 3 quarterback said. “So that’s when it got real for me.”
After that text, Boyle admitted, he was “checking my phone every 30 seconds.”
No call — or misleading text message, like the one tight end Robert Tonyan received, falsely telling him he’d been cut — ever came. Boyle, despite his sketchy college statistical resume, despite starting camp fourth on the depth chart behind two-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, incumbent backup Brett Hundley and ex-Cleveland Browns starter DeShone Kizer, had made the team.
Now, he and Rodgers will share a locker room (where they’re now neighbors after Boyle spent camp in the auxiliary dressing area), a quarterbacks room (where Boyle’s primary role will be to create reports to help Rodgers prep for upcoming opponents), and a sideline (where Boyle likely will be in street clothes with Kizer active as Rodgers’ primary backup).
“It’s unreal. Never in a million years did I think it would be a reality to play behind Aaron Rodgers,” Boyle said as the Packers prepared for Sunday night’s regular-season opener against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. “I always thought I had the ability to play in the NFL, but to learn from such a great quarterback in such a great organization, I’m truly, truly blessed.”
Had the Packers opted to waive Boyle, his NFL dream wouldn’t have been DOA. He’d shown too much promise in preseason games and in practice for the Packers not to want him on their practice squad. The question was whether the Packers were willing to risk releasing him and having him claimed by another team to join its 53-man roster instead.
Last summer, the Packers were similarly smitten with BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, another undrafted rookie who’d put together a strong preseason of game film. Hoping they could get him through waivers to their practice squad, the Packers cut Hill and kept only two quarterbacks — Rodgers and Hundley — on the 53.
The plan was foiled when New Orleans coach Sean Payton snapped Hill up, and now it’s possible Hill will take over for 40-year-old Drew Brees as the Saints’ quarterback in the not-too-distant future.
What the future holds for Boyle is unclear. Kizer, a second-round pick from Notre Dame a year ago, started 15 games for the winless Browns as a rookie and coach Mike McCarthy said after the trade he believed Kizer would have been a first-round pick had he stayed in school another year. General manager Brian Gutekunst, meanwhile, insists he swung the March deal with the Browns more so to get Kizer, whom he’d liked coming out of college, than to rid the team of enigmatic 2015 first-round pick Damarious Randall.
Nevertheless, despite a nomadic college career that saw him commit to Boston College (he was a three-star recruit before mutually parting ways with the Eagles after a coaching change), spend three years in his home state at UConn (where he endured more coaching upheaval as he threw 13 interceptions against only one touchdown pass) and finish up at FCS school Eastern Kentucky (where he hardly set the world on fire, throwing for 2,134 yards with 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions), Boyle’s cannon right arm caught the Packers’ eye, making him a priority free agent after the draft.
“The live arm was evident on tape. We had two scouts, Joe Heuber and Matt Malaspina, who got live looks on him and they came away very, very impressed,” Gutekunst said. “He kind of had a different kind of career path in college than a lot of guys, but sometimes when you hop from school to school like that, it’s tough to get the production part of it down, which obviously he didn’t have as much as some other quarterbacks would have. (But for) our two scouts who saw him live, it was a no-brainer for them.”
Boyle still had to earn his place, which he did by avoiding turnovers in practice — despite getting limited 11-on-11 reps before Gutekunst traded Hundley to the Seattle Seahawks last week — and playing well in games.
Although two second-half interceptions in the preseason finale at Kansas City killed his overall preseason passer rating (69.2), he looked fantastic during the first half against the Chiefs and to that point had put up the best numbers (20 of 38, 248 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, 99.5 passer rating) of any rookie quarterback in the league.
The second-half mistakes against the Chiefs — Boyle called it “a learning experience” — didn’t change the Packers’ view of him, which allowed Boyle to be one of four undrafted rookie free agents to make the initial 53-man roster (along with Richmond offensive tackle Alex Light, James Madison safety Raven Greene and Illinois linebacker James Crawford).
“There has to be a line, a threshold that a player has to earn his way onto the team. And I feel that Tim did that,” McCarthy said. “There’s obviously a lot of work to do with him. I mean, he’s got a lot of football in front of him, but we’re excited as a coaching staff what we have to work with.”
And Boyle is ready to get to work. As much confidence as he exudes, had he looked at the Herculean task before him at the start of camp, Boyle admitted, he might not have accomplished what he did. Now, he’s earned the opportunity to show even more of what he can do.
“I tell a lot of people this — if you look at the big picture, even in life, it’s overwhelming. You (have to) take it one thing at a time,” Boyle said. “(I was) trusting my ability. ‘If I just learn the offense, I don’t turn the ball over and show them I can play sound football, then I’m going to put myself in an opportunity for them to keep me.’ Being confident is one thing, but being smart and understanding your situation is another thing.”