GREEN BAY, Wis. – When Kurt Benkert runs out of the tunnel on Sunday night at Lambeau Field, it will mark his first real game in 1,445 days.
On Dec. 28, 2017, Benkert capped his collegiate career in the Military Bowl. Navy crushed his Virginia team 49-7; the Cavaliers’ only touchdown came on the opening kickoff return.
Benkert went undrafted in 2018 and landed with Atlanta. He spent his entire rookie season on the Falcons’ practice squad and all of 2019 on their injured reserve. He spent all of the 2020 season on Atlanta’s practice squad, as well, other than the Week 11 game vs. New Orleans in which he was elevated to the gameday roster on that Saturday but designated as inactive for the game.
Benkert signed with Green Bay in May, earned a place on the practice squad and was promoted to the 53-man roster after No. 2 quarterback Jordan Love was added to the COVID-19 list. Against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, he’ll be the No. 2 quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers.
“Preseason here is unlike preseason in a lot of other places, so you get that home atmosphere and a sellout crowd,” Benkert said on Friday. “But Sunday Night Football against the Bears, one of the oldest traditions in football, pretty cool way to come out.”
While Benkert threw one touchdown pass vs. the Jets in the preseason, it’s been 1,484 days since he threw a touchdown pass in a game that counts. In a loss at Miami during his senior season, Benkert tossed four touchdown passes while posting his career high in passer rating. In the NFL, he spent three years behind the Falcons’ Matt Ryan and veteran Matt Schaub, and now this season behind Rodgers and first-round pick Love. So, the cards have been stacked against him in terms of getting on the field.
“I didn’t think it would take this long,” he said of suiting up for a regular-season game. “In 2019, I got injured in preseason so was out that entire year. That was the only year that I was in Atlanta that Matt Ryan missed any games at all. So, there was that, and then obviously Matt Schaub had been there for a while. So, just kind of what the role was. Never know, man. Just always got to stay ready, though.”
In Green Bay, he had to learn a new offense and new footwork.
“It was really hard, at first,” he said of the mechanics discussed in the accompanying video. “I felt like I was a baby giraffe when I first got here. I felt so uncomfortable. When I came here for OTAs, Aaron wasn’t here doing it so I wasn’t seeing somebody do it like that, like how they want it to be done, I guess you could say. He’s so good with his feet and I don’t think he gets enough credit for that. How he can speed up, slow down, anticipate. He’s obviously really special in that aspect. But it’s been cool to see firsthand why he does it. Because if you just watch film or don’t know him or have a reason behind it, then it’s like why is he doing that? But he has a reason for everything. It’s been cool.”
This week has been different aside from his spot on the roster (and the size of his weekly paycheck). During a typical week, Rodgers takes all the reps on offense and Love takes 80-plus percent of the scout-team reps, with Benkert getting the scraps. With Rodgers battling an injured toe, Love had been running the offense and Benkert the scout team. This week, Benkert took the offense reps on Wednesday and Thursday; with Rodgers practicing on Friday, Benkert was back to the scout team.
“Tiring. Definitely tiring,” he described of his week.
With a much more important role this week – Benkert will be one play from being Green Bay’s quarterback – coach Matt LaFleur told the avid gamer to give up the videogames this week.
“I haven’t touched a controller, man, since probably a week-and-a-half,” Benkert said. “I didn’t play when I was on bye week or anything, either, so I haven’t played in a minute. Definitely a little bit of a change of a role. Obviously, I’m always prepared but it’s a little bit different. You forget the nuances of things like hearing the play, having to remember it, call it, while teammates are trying to talk to you and give you whatever in the huddle that you don’t get until you’re being forced or thrown into it. You can do a bunch of mental reps and walk-through and all this other stuff but there’s little nuances of timing with motion and stuff you can’t get unless you’re doing it. That was kind of nice to knock off the rust on some of that stuff this week.”