NAPA, Calif., — For Matt Flynn, last season was a false start.
Flynn, who had been backup to Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, signed with Seattle during the 2012 off-season and was on track to start for the Seahawks. But Seattle selected Wisconsin's Russell Wilson in the third round of last year's draft, and the rookie phenom wound up claiming the starting job, making Flynn expendable.
Fast-forward a year, and Flynn again has a chance to be an NFL starter, now with the rebuilding Oakland Raiders. They acquired him in April for a couple of late-round draft picks.
"I've been given a second opportunity to come in and earn a starting job," Flynn said Friday after the first practice of Raiders training camp. "It's pretty rare, and I know that. I'm going to do everything in my power to take advantage of this, to have no regrets. Make it happen and not take it for granted."
Flynn, 28, who has started two games in five seasons as a pro, sat on a bench next to the team's outdoor weight area, and talked about his circuitous path to this point — from backing up future Raiders bust JaMarcus Russell at Louisiana State, to learning at the elbow of Rodgers in Green Bay, to watching Wilson rocket to stardom in Seattle.
By all appearances, the Raiders' starting job is Flynn's to lose, and his $6.5-million salary is guaranteed. The other quarterbacks on the roster are Terrelle Pryor, fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson — a promising rookie from Arkansas — and rookie free agent Matt McGloin. Flynn is getting most of the reps with the first-string offense, as opposed to last summer when he was anything from first- to third-string depending on the day.
"I can look back to the seventh grade, and I don't think I've had one year where I've had anything given to me, or a time when someone's said, 'Hey, the job's yours. Take it,'" Flynn said. "I've had to fight every year. My goal is to solidify myself somehow so I can take ownership, take leadership of the team, make the offense my own."
Most people don't expect much from the Raiders this season. They were 4-12 in 2012, and a staggering $49 million of their salary-cap space is devoted to players no longer on the roster. Neither of their top two draft picks — cornerback D.J. Hayden or tackle Menelik Watson — is healthy enough to practice at full speed.
The Raiders were ranked eighth in passing last season (and 28th in rushing) but that was with Carson Palmer at quarterback, and he's now with the Arizona Cardinals.
Coach Dennis Allen said the Raiders need to develop some consistency in their passing game, but added that Flynn "did some nice things, made some nice reads, made a couple really good throws today."
When Flynn was in Seattle, there was a stark contrast between his laid-back style and the effusive energy of Wilson, whose personality is closer to that of Coach Pete Carroll.
"I had to find a medium ground last year because I knew that Pete was high energy, all over the place in practice, and I knew he probably wanted that out of his quarterbacks a little bit," Flynn said. "But I still didn't want to be someone I wasn't.
"I think Russell and I had two different personalities. But I don't think any of that played a part in the decision. The bottom line was, Russell took ahold of his opportunity and made the most of it."
Flynn's easygoing attitude is sometimes mistaken for apathy, he said, and not everyone responds well to that. Fans at LSU said it looked as if he didn't care, even when he was, say, lining up to go for it on fourth down against Florida in the fourth quarter. He said he simply shows his competitiveness in a different way.
"I feel like if the guys can look at me in the huddle and see a calm and collected face, that they're going to relax a little bit," he said.
"The way I look at it, leadership and being that guy is, don't be someone you're not. Don't be a hoorah guy jumping around and clapping your hands if you're not that guy. Makes you look desperate. Makes you look silly. That's not me."
When he was in Green Bay, Flynn took full advantage of his two starts. In the first, a Sunday night game at New England in 2010, he filled in for an injured Rodgers and threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-27 loss. That got some attention.
Flynn notched his second start the next season, when the Packers had already clinched the top seeding in the NFC and a first-round bye in the playoffs. Flynn started the finale against Detroit, on a freezing day at Lambeau Field, and threw a team-record six touchdowns in a 45-41 shootout victory.
Just a week earlier, Rodgers had the first five-touchdown game of his career in a 35-21 victory over Chicago. He didn't get to bask in that glory too long, because his backup — and good friend — was about to eclipse him, if only for a game.
"When I threw five," Flynn recalled, "I come over to the sideline and sit down, and Aaron looks at me through the corner of his eye and shakes his head like, 'You little turd.' I was just laughing.
"The Lions go down the field and score again, and Aaron comes up to me, puts his arm around me and said, 'If you get a chance for six, you've got to take it.' I was like, that's cool."
The locker-room environment in Green Bay was a good one, Flynn said, with everyone giving everyone else a hard time. That was the case during his six-touchdown game too.
"The first half Aaron was on the microphone calling plays," Flynn said. "He was ripping on me. I'm on the field and he's ripping on me out there. He's just like, 'You look stupid out there,' or, 'Your shoe's untied.' There wasn't enough time to be doing that, but that's Aaron."
As the clock continues to tick on Flynn's career, the stakes are higher and the joking is over.
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