Rookie QBs will achieve NFL dreams in debut

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY - When Marquise Williams was a child, his third-grade teacher asked each student in the class what he or she wanted to be when they grew up. Williams, who loved football, blurted out his answer without hesitation.

“I always said I wanted to be an NFL quarterback,” Williams said.

As he recounted this story to a group of reporters Friday afternoon, Williams was two days from achieving a childhood dream.

His current team, the Green Bay Packers, begins its exhibition season Sunday night in Canton, Ohio, as part of the league’s annual Hall of Fame game. And with the top two quarterbacks unlikely to play — starter Aaron Rodgers for precautionary reasons, backup Brett Hundley because of an ankle problem — the majority of the snaps, if not all of them, will fall to Williams and Joe Callahan, a pair of undrafted rookies.

Related: Hundley could miss HOF game

Related: Rodgers, Lacy sit out practice

“I think they’re doing OK,” Thompson said with a positive tone. “I don’t know how easy that is to be a rookie quarterback and be thrust into NFL training camp where, for all the world for them, it probably looks like they’re going against first-teamers all the time. But I think they’re holding their own, and we’ll see what they can do down in Ohio.”

If Rodgers and Hundley are withheld, it will likely be Callahan who makes the start. Callahan signed with the Packers on May 6 as an undrafted — and largely unheard of — free agent from Wesley College, where he became the first Division III quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. He was awarded the D-III equivalent of the Heisman Trophy after a senior year that featured 5,068 passing yards and 55 touchdowns.

The shortest of all quarterbacks on the roster, Callahan (6-1, 216) settled in during the last few days of training camp. When protected, Callahan fires a tight spiral with requisite confidence. On Thursday he tossed two beautiful touchdown passes in quick succession during a team period, one to Jamel Johnson and the other to Jared Abbrederis.

“Trying to adjust to Aaron’s style of play and some of his mechanics early on, that was one of the things that I had to learn and try to learn as fast as possible,” Callahan said. “I think that month that we had off was critical in my ability to pick that up fast. It was something that I was able to work on with so much free time.

“Aaron has a unique style of footwork. The way that it’s built into the offense, it’s all based off of timing and everything just times up so well. You try and do what Aaron does out there. You try to mimic as much as you can, if that’s possible, because we know who Aaron Rodgers is. You try to play as much like him as possible.”

For Williams, the summer resembled more of a crash course after he was signed off the street on May 26. His learning period was 20 days shorter than Callahan’s, and predictably his performances in practice have been uneven.

In college at North Carolina, where he set more than 20 school records, Williams found success with his legs as well. He ran for 2,458 yards over the course of four years and scored 35 rushing touchdowns. As a senior, Williams rushed for 948 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry on what he said were mostly scramble opportunities.

“I learned in the first game forcing throws will get me three interceptions,” Williams said of his senior year. “So I had to find some ways to get the guys the ball.”

He hopes to find a few more come Sunday.

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