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Etling ‘Thankful’ for Unique Journey to No. 3 Quarterback

Having endured a couple position changes and several changes of scenery, Packers quarterback Danny Etling views his career through nothing but a prism of positivity.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Through his football career, Green Bay Packers quarterback Danny Etling figures he’s seen 41 of the 50 states. He spent time with five NFL teams last year alone.

“It’s been a weird one,” Etling said during a break in organized team activities. “Time flies.”

Etling started his collegiate career at Purdue before transferring to LSU and starting as a junior in 2016 and senior in 2017. Following a final season of 16 touchdowns vs. two interceptions, Etling was drafted in the seventh round by the New England Patriots in 2018. His rookie preseason ended with a game against the New York Giants.

“I hadn’t got to play a lot in the preseason up to that point,” he said. “I think they were trying to stash me, but they let me play and I had a long run, and that’s when they first opened their eyes to some of my athleticism.”

That long run was an 86-yard touchdown. It wasn’t enough to win him a roster spot, but it started the wheels in motion for a unique NFL odyssey that has him in a pretty good spot with the Packers ahead of the start of training camp later this month.

A herniated disc that dogged him throughout college had been repaired via a microdiscectomy. After running his 40-yard dash in 4.76 seconds at the 2018 Scouting Combine, a healthy Etling suddenly showed he had some wheels. That touchdown run piqued the Patriots’ interest.

When training camp opened in 2019, Etling had been moved to receiver.

If only it were that simple.

“Throughout that [rookie] year, I still played quarterback and they really liked my progression, but they drafted a kid [Jarrett Stidham in the fourth round in 2019] so it was a crowded room and I wasn’t getting a lot of reps,” Etling recalled.

“Unfortunately, they told me the first day of camp that I was moving, so I didn’t have a whole lot of time to prepare. My first day of camp my second year, they said, ‘Hey, we need help in the receiver room.’ I said, ‘OK, sure, I’ll help out today.’ Out of nowhere, the next thing I knew, I was answering questions about switching to receiver. I was like, ‘I haven’t really prepped for this.’ I think things might have gone differently if I had even an offseason to prepare.”

Danny Etling throws a pass to Randall Cobb at OTAs. (Mark Hoffman/USA Today Sports)

Danny Etling throws a pass to Randall Cobb at OTAs. (Mark Hoffman/USA Today Sports)

Etling hadn’t played receiver in his life. And he hadn’t played special teams until he was told just before the first preseason game that he’d be playing all four phases. Not surprisingly, the unprepared Etling was released midway through training camp. He was claimed off waivers the next day by the Atlanta Falcons and moved back to quarterback.

A week later, he was running the Falcons’ offense in the third preseason game.

“I didn’t know anyone in the huddle,” Etling said.

A week after that, Etling played most of the preseason finale. He did well enough to earn a spot on the practice squad, where he spent the entire 2019 season. The Falcons released him midway through camp in 2020, and the Seahawks claimed him off waivers.

“I show up first day and I’m like, ‘Hey, Pete Carroll, nice to meet you,’” Etling recalled. “He goes, ‘Oh, great. We’re going to have a scrimmage today and we’re live and it’s the first-team defense.’”

Like the previous season in Atlanta, Etling did enough to stick around on the practice squad for the entire 2020 season. Early in camp last summer, the Seahawks released Etling in favor of veteran Sean Mannion. That set the stage for a nomadic 2021 season in which Etling spent part of training camp with the Vikings and served practice-squad stints with Seattle, Denver, Green Bay and Jacksonville.

In late January, the Packers brought back Etling on a futures deal. He spent the offseason working with Aaron Rodgers, Jordan Love and Kurt Benkert. With last month’s release of Benkert, Etling will enter training camp as the No. 3 quarterback and with an obvious path to sticking around for the year.

“I’m just always thankful,” Etling said when asked about his opportunity. “I’m going into Year 5 and I’m still playing the game I love. You just focus on your own self and your own work. With how much you move around in this league, you focus on being thankful for the opportunities you have and being thankful for getting to play a game you love. You don’t really worry so much about the end product of making a roster. It’s all just about the journey leading up to it. What I’ve learned is the fun part is the journey of each new place and each new thing.”

Having joined the Falcons and Seahawks during the middle of their training camps, Etling will be in the unusual but welcome position of starting training camp with some comfort in the offense he’ll be running and with some relationships with the coaches and teammates.

That means he’ll enter this training camp with a bit of a different focus.

“Once you learn football, football’s football. It’s just a matter of learning the small details within an offense and also learning why you’re calling a play,” Etling said. “Different coaches have different ways of seeing the game and why they might call a certain play against a certain defense, and why we might have a protection slide this way or why you might do a certain formation.

“Every team is so different with their idiosyncrasies that it’s cool to learn but it takes time. You can’t just do it overnight. That’s the one thing that you don’t quite have comfortability with but, other stuff, football’s football. A lot of the plays are plug-and-play. That’s the stuff that’s been easier to grasp. The littler things, the details, are things that I’ve been really working hard with with the coaches.”

Etling’s journey might not seem ideal. Certainly, he’d love to have planted some roots and gained some career stability by now. But he views his career through nothing but a prism of positivity.

“It’s a totally different journey than maybe you would expect but it’s been learning from a lot of great quarterbacks and a lot of great coaches and a lot of ways to play the game of football,” he said. “It’s been really a blessing in disguise. It’s been difficult but it’s been pretty cool. I’ve seen 41 of the 50 states just through football and I’m only 27, so I’m living life in a pretty cool way.”

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