Alex Van Pelt may have one of the more unusual assistant coaching jobs in the NFL.
He might be the new quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers, but in one sense there's only so much wisdom Van Pelt can impart when his top pupil is Aaron Rodgers.
"It's tough to say you're going to go out and teach Aaron Rodgers how to throw the football. My job is to continually challenge him," Van Pelt said this week after being formally introduced in his new position.
Not that he's unfamiliar with Rodgers, the 2011 NFL MVP. After spending the previous two seasons coaching running backs in Green Bay, Van Pelt is moving over to quarterbacks after assistant Ben McAdoo became offensive coordinator for the New York Giants.
For Van Pelt, he's now coaching at the position he played in the league as a career backup in Buffalo. He has also had stints as quarterbacks coach in Tampa Bay and Buffalo.
It also helps that he's had a long history with Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who was the quarterbacks coach at Pittsburgh in 1989 when Van Pelt set career and single-season passing records.
"I learned the offense with Alex back in 1989, so we've learned the foundation together," McCarthy said Monday.
Now they will be the primary influences, along with offensive coordinator Tom Clements, on Rodgers, one of the best signal-callers in the league. Van Pelt said it is part of his job to make Rodgers think and learn things that may not have been emphasized in a while.
And Van Pelt can draw from his playing days in the NFL.
"I don't think it's necessary but I think it definitely helps. I think you speak from experiences that you've had on the playing field and locker rooms," he said. "Is it necessary? No."
Having offensive guru McCarthy as the boss, too, lessens the pressure on Van Pelt. But he'll also be charged with developing the backups — a task that came under scrutiny this season after Rodgers was lost for much of the second half of the season with a collarbone injury.
A franchise that was used to stability at the position between Brett Favre and Rodgers was suddenly playing quarterback roulette. Backup Seneca Wallace went down the game after Rodgers' injury. Third-stringer Scott Tolzien had a few highlights, but Green Bay didn't get back on track until veteran Matt Flynn returned to the Packers.
Van Pelt though is optimistic about what he's seen from Tolzien, the potential long-term backup. The Wisconsin graduate played three games and started twice in 2013, with one touchdown and five interceptions.
"This system is complicated for a quarterback, so I think he'll grow in another year of the system and understanding all the adjustments," Van Pelt said.
In his tenure as the running backs coach, Van Pelt aided with the development of DuJuan Harris down the stretch in 2012; and in the emergence of Eddie Lacy, the 2013 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
It's a nice bullet point on his resume. Now Van Pelt gets a chance to help Rodgers on a team that's a perennial NFC contender. With McAdoo now the offensive coordinator in New York, and one-time quarterbacks coach Clements now the offensive coordinator in Green Bay, maybe the new position will be a stepping stone in Van Pelt's career.
"My goal this year is to coach the best quarterback in the NFL to have a great season," he said. "Whatever happens after that is a bonus."
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