Unheralded Tim Boyle settling in, making case for Lions' backup quarterback role

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Very little about Tim Boyle's college career suggested he deserved an opportunity to play in the NFL. But here we are, four years later, and Boyle is well on his way to locking up the Detroit Lions backup quarterback job. 

Boyle had some buzz coming out of high school, drawing interest from several major programs, including a scholarship offer from Florida. After initially committing to Boston College, he finally settled on UConn, a mere 30-minute drive from his hometown of Xavier, Connecticut.

Ultimately, it didn't work out. In three seasons with the Huskies, Boyle never hit his stride. Appearing in 19 games, he completed 48.4% of his passes with an ugly one-to-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

Lions quarterback Tim Boyle looks for his receiver during drills.

No longer seeing a path to playing time after his junior season, Boyle transferred to Eastern Kentucky where he sat out a year before serving as the team's starter and a captain as a 23-year-old senior. 

Still, the statistical output wasn't worth writing home about. The completion percentage jumped to a respectable 61%, but he still threw more than interceptions (13) than touchdowns (11). 

Yet at his pro day, Boyle caught the eye of Green Bay Packers pro scout Chad Brinker, who was impressed by the quarterback's size, arm strength and ability to fit the ball into tight windows.

"My career at UConn was just up and down," Boyle said. "You're the starting quarterback, now you're the backup, now you're third-string and you're going back to being the starter and now you're a backup. Mentally, emotionally, physically, it's just, you want to get into a rhythm as a quarterback.

"I always believed in myself. My family believed in myself. I knew I had the physical tools, but I always told myself that good things happen to good people who do the right thing."

Working with former quarterback Todd Collins during that offseason to hone his skill set, good things did happen for Boyle. He impressed in his first training camp and preseason, earning a roster spot with the Packers.

He would stick for three seasons, but following the Packers' decision to draft quarterback Jordan Love in the first round a year ago, Boyle said the writing was on the wall regarding his future with the franchise. So when free agency opened this offseason, he quickly agreed to one-year deal with the Lions. 

"Yeah, I think the fact that they wanted me and they approached me, they seemed like they wanted me, was an attractive quality," Boyle said. "Obviously, opportunity when it comes to furthering my career. … The fact that I have an opportunity to prolong my career here and help Jared Goff win football games, that's exciting to me."

Admittedly, Boyle isn't a household name, having only appeared in a handful of Packers games, typically to take a few knees in the closing moments of a blowout victory. But among Green Bay fans, he built a following after a string of impressive preseason performances. 

In 2019, Boyle led the NFL with a 112.9 passer rating during the preseason, completing nearly 60% of his 57 passes for 356 yards, six touchdowns and, most importantly given his college tendencies, zero interceptions. 

Boyle got off to a sluggish start on the practice field with the Lions, but that's understandable given the team has been installing a new scheme, with new coaches and a new group receivers also trying to get their bearings. But over the past several days of training camp, the skills that originally drew the attention of the Packers, and netted him a deal with the Lions, have become apparent. 

On the top of the list is the arm strength. While one of the overarching themes of camp has been the inability of the first-team offense to effectively work the ball downfield, Boyle has unleashed a series of bombs to backup receivers such as Quintez Cephus and Damion Ratley. 

"It's situational football," Boyle said. "You know, I think the coaches have put all three of us in a good spot to make sure we're getting the ball downfield. If you're checking down, throwing it short or intermediate every time, defensive backs and safeties are going to start sitting on stuff. I think there's a part of it that you want to keep the defense honest and throw it past their heads a few times. Even if it's incomplete, that corner is like, 'Oh, I've got to respect the deep ball now.'

"Fortunately, we've been able to hit some deep balls and they've been pretty, so it's been fun."

Boyle is settling into a rhythm within the offense in time to do what he does best — ball out in the preseason. Even though it might seem counterintuitive, he said there's less pressure in game situations than on the practice field. 

"I haven't really played meaningful football in the NFL in real games, but when you're out there, and it's just 11-on-11 and there's no coaches or players behind you, you just kinda, in my opinion, you slow down a little bit," Boyle said. "You've got your guys around you and I'm able to react. You're not really thinking. It's not high-intensity training camp.

"Obviously, it's preseason and it's a lot of fun and there are fans here, but you kinda get to calm down a little bit and think through every play like it's an individual game."

Boyle has no grand illusions. He is quick to concede the starting job belongs to Goff, the former No. 1 overall pick acquired in a trade this offseason. But Boyle is also eager to justify the leap the Lions have taken with him with the still-important backup job, while continuing to develop a skill set that could eventually earn him a shot to start somewhere, someday, even if it's not here. 

"(Goff) has had a very good career and Detroit is lucky to have him and I'm looking forward to helping him win games," Boyle said. "I'm out here to prove myself to you guys and my teammates and myself and my coaches. That's an ongoing process. I'm so lucky and thankful to be here. Detroit's a pretty awesome city and I'm looking forward to the rest of training camp. I really am."


Twitter: @Justin_Rogers