Time to shine (or just improve) for Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer

DeShone Kizer and Brett Hundley took their lumps in their first extended regular-season action last year. Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's time to see whether Brett Hundley and DeShone Kizer have learned anything this offseason.

Maligned for their play last season -- Hundley as Aaron Rodgers' injury replacement with the Green Bay Packers and Kizer as the Cleveland Browns' winless rookie -- the NFL world will see if a spring and summer's worth of work resulted in any improvement.

With Rodgers unlikely to play in Thursday's preseason opener against the Titans -- he hasn't played in the first exhibition game since 2015 -- coach Mike McCarthy will put the game in the hands of Hundley and Kizer.

"They're battling for the backup position, so you'll see a balance of reps between Brett and DeShone," McCarthy said this week.

The two came out of the spring OTAs and minicamp seemingly still struggling to implement the fundamental changes that McCarthy and his staff implemented. There have been moments so far in training camp when they've looked better -- Kizer's throws have more zip on them of late, and Hundley's decision-making speed has increased -- but it's nothing that will convince anyone the Packers would fare better this season if something again happened to Rodgers, like last year when he broke his collarbone. Early in camp, an argument could have been made that undrafted rookie Tim Boyle from Eastern Kentucky looked better than Hundley or Kizer.

Last season, Hundley won just three of nine starts in Rodgers' absence. One of them was against Kizer, who floated a terrible interception in overtime to essentially hand the Packers the game. It was a microcosm of Kizer's 22-interception season during which he ranked last in the NFL in completion percentage (53.6).

The Browns gave away Kizer, a former second-round pick, to take a flier on mercurial cornerback Damarious Randall in a surprising offseason trade. One coach familiar with Kizer called him a "total rebuild" when he got to Green Bay.

Kizer has two things going for him in Green Bay that he didn't in Cleveland: the chance to watch one of the best in Rodgers and the absence of pressure to turn around a struggling team.

"I think he really looks at this as kind of a fresh start for him," Rodgers said this week. "As tough as last year was at times, being the starter and not winning any games and being on a bad team, now having less pressure on him, I think, has given him some of that love of the game back that he had in college. When that starts coming back, things start slowing down, you start enjoying the little things a little bit more and then your play generally picks up and I think the last couple days you've seen him practice really well."

Rodgers is right; Kizer has looked better in recent days. He put a touchdown pass right on the money to rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling during Tuesday’s practice and more balls were on the mark during one-on-one drills, where it's just a receiver against a cornerback.

"I'm getting comfortable, and it's allowed me to rip it," Kizer said. "That's one thing I've learned the most from Aaron -- when Aaron's on it looks effortless and the ball is coming out good. My goal is to get to that level. Obviously it's going to take years and years to understand the game the way he does, but as far as being comfortable in the pocket, I think that's something I can do this year."

The Packers inherited Kizer's contract when they traded for him. Because he was a second-round pick last season, his $689,928 base salary for this season is guaranteed. Hundley, meanwhile, has only this season left on his rookie deal.

Before Hundley started a game last season, one NFL personnel executive thought the Packers could trade him for a fourth-round pick. After he played, the same scout said Hundley had no trade value. How he plays this summer could help decide whether the Packers keep two or three quarterbacks on the roster.

What could help Hundley is the chance he got to break down film of himself in game action and see where he went wrong. That's something Rodgers didn't have much of until he became a starter in 2008.

"I can tell you that my second year it was good to go back and watch those 16 games and be very honest about the areas I needed to improve," Rodgers said. "So it's a jump. When you go from a year where you played a number of games, there's an expectation that you're going to take that next step and Brett going into his [fourth] year, for him, I think he's made some really good strides.

"You know, for him, it's just about finding that calm in the pocket and having things come to his mind quickly. And that's just what being a more experienced player allows you to do -- to recall those things. And now he has a number of games on film where he can recall certain plays or instances or protection adjustments or route adjustments that he made and that's only going to help him when he gets in there on Thursday and in the preseason."