With a 15-5-1 record against the Vikings, Packers coach Mike McCarthy is used to making the right calls when it comes to preparing for his NFC North rivals to the west.
Wednesday, McCarthy said the Packers are expecting the Vikings to start Sam Bradford at quarterback. Unlike Titans coach Mike Mularkey, who was wrong when he said the same thing a week earlier, McCarthy is expected to be proven right by what probably will become the worst-kept secret in the NFL by the time these two 1-0 teams meet Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“We’re preparing for both Shaun [Hill] and Sam,” McCarthy told Twin Cities media during a conference call. “I think it’s very important to recognize that. But my understanding is that it may be Sam Bradford.”
Meanwhile, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer continued to avoid the subject for competitive reasons. Hill gave a gutsy, turnover-free performance in the Vikings’ 25-16 season opener at Tennessee, but lacks the arm strength and deep-ball accuracy the younger Bradford would bring to an offense trying to unstack defenders crowding the line of scrimmage to stop Adrian Peterson.
“You’ll have to wait until Sunday,” Zimmer said.
He refused comment when asked if he already knew who he was going to start. After being told McCarthy was guessing up a storm from 250 miles away, Zimmer was asked if a green-and-gold mole had infiltrated Winter Park.
“I hope [the source is] not in this building,” he said. “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Mike McCarthy that. I can’t speak for him.”
In Green Bay, reporters wanted answers they knew weren’t coming via Zimmer’s conference call. When asked if he’d be telling the players ahead of time, Zimmer apparently sounded miffed about last Friday’s NFL.com report citing unnamed players who said Zimmer told the team Hill would start the opener.
“Typically I do [tell the players],” Zimmer said. “I did last week. I don’t know if I will this week or not because it started leaking. Usually I like to inform the team of everything that’s going on here and what I’m thinking, but I was a little disappointed that some of the things got out.”
Back in Minnesota, reporters moved on to the subjects at hand. Hill was trotted out first. With 35 starts (17-18) in 15 NFL seasons as the prototypical journeyman quarterback, Hill is completely believable as an “aw shucks” guy who will accept — or already has — whatever decision Zimmer hands down.
When asked how he would handle not starting after “playing decently” against the Titans, Hill took it as a compliment. Sort of.
“Decently?” said Hill, who completed 54.5 percent of his 33 passes for 236 yards, no touchdowns, no turnovers and a 77.3 passer rating. “Playing decently. Thank you. You know, I tell you what, I’ve been around this long enough, nothing surprises me and nothing catches me off guard.”
By the end of Hill’s news conference, he sounded like Bradford’s agent.
Asked how Bradford fits Norv Turner’s offense, Hill said, “Very, very well. He’s very talented, very physically talented. And I knew he’d be a good fit for this offense as soon as I heard we were trading for him. I was like ‘OK, yeah, that makes sense.’ ”
Hill exited and Bradford was led into the media scrum. Unlike the opener, when Bradford had only eight days and five practices as a Viking, Bradford now is being saluted for having a firm enough grasp on things to make his Vikings debut on Sunday. Bradford said he could execute a full game plan, including audibles, after the extra time learning new verbiage to some concepts with which he’s familiar.
“I feel much better now,” Bradford said.
But no, he won’t be able to draw much on the two times he played the Packers while with the Rams. He had a passer rating of 76.9 in a 24-3 thumping in 2011 and 82.4 in a 30-20 loss in 2012.
“I don’t remember those games,” he said. “I’m sure they didn’t go well for us.”
As for whether any of this deception really matters, McCarthy said it only “lengthens” the preparation process and is “no different from if one was starting and the backup came in. You have to prepare for everybody you anticipate being on their 46-man roster.”
Meanwhile, Green Bay’s undisputed starter, Aaron Rodgers, seemed to be enjoying the show when asked about Zimmer maybe not telling the players who will start.
“I’m guessing he said that because there was some sort of leak last week when they were trying to be a little secretive about it,” Rodgers said. “I would guess once the media leaves practice, the players have a pretty good idea of who is the starter. I think it does help if you know who it is, and I’m sure those guys probably have an idea of who it’s going to be.”