A quick overview of Ted Thompson's draft class coming out of the 2017 draft. (May 2, 2017)
GREEN BAY – As long as the Green Bay Packers have Aaron Rodgers, the quarterbacks they add to their roster will be backups looking to groom themselves for a starting job somewhere else.
Nevertheless, general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy haven’t been afraid of adding quarterbacks, either.
From Graham Harrell to Seneca Wallace to Scott Tolzien to Vince Young to Brett Hundley to Joe Callahan, the Packers continually have been looking for guys they can groom into starters, even if it means none of those appearances will be for them.
The offseason, and often training camp, requires a team to have four quarterbacks because you wouldn’t want Rodgers having to throw passes for the scout team. So even though the Packers have Rodgers, Hundley and Callahan on their 90-man roster, they signed BYU undrafted free agent Taysom Hill April 29 and auditioned Minnesota-Duluth quarterback Drew Bauer this past weekend.
Only Hill and Bauer took part in the rookie orientation that took place Thursday through Saturday, and Hill is the one McCarthy was really interested in watching given his NFL-caliber athleticism. But getting to work with quarterbacks is one of McCarthy’s pleasures, and he definitely enjoyed spending time with both during Friday and Saturday practices.
“Just talking to them walking off the field, I thought they did an outstanding job,” McCarthy said Saturday. “Anytime you have to come in and you’re obviously learning a new footwork, a new cadence, center exchange — you look at today’s quarterbacks, they don’t have a lot of experience under center.
“So you’re putting a balance of (play) action-passing game and drop-back because you want to install the offense the right way and make sure these guys get off on the right foot so when they do come back in 10 days they have an idea of what the veteran players are going through. But I thought they really did a good job with the footwork, and the tape yesterday was really good.”
Hill definitely will be back the week of the 15th when the rookies return to join the veterans in the offseason conditioning program. The 6-1½, 230-pounder battled injuries throughout his time at BYU and arrives to the NFL about to turn 27 years old, the result of a red-shirt season and a two-year Mormon mission.
But Hill had 4,282 total yards and accounted for 29 touchdowns as a sophomore and ranks No. 1 among BYU quarterbacks in rushing yards with 2,815. His testing numbers at pro day — he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds and had a vertical jump of 38½ inches — are what teams seek in cornerbacks and wide receivers.
His testing numbers and rushing performance are off the charts the way Callahan’s senior year passing numbers were at Wesley College (5,063 yards and 55 touchdowns as a senior).
The Packers took a chance on Hill the same way they took a chance on Callahan and the same way they took a chance on Hundley after he dropped into the fifth round in the 2015 draft due to a lack of experience in a pro-style offense. If they are right about Callahan and Hill, they might be able to trade Hundley this summer for a valuable draft pick or player.
“When I didn’t get drafted, it was pretty easy,” Hill said of his decision to sign with the Packers. “They were my No. 1 choice at that point. I think quarterback-wise it’s a great opportunity to come and learn from a guy like Aaron, so that was really appealing to me. I liked the idea and sound of that.
"And I loved the organization and felt it would be a good opportunity to be developed and have the opportunity to play in some point in my career.”
Hill showed off a cannon arm in practice and his running ability will fit in nicely with the movement options in McCarthy’s offense, but he is nothing close to a finished product and will have to prove he can stay healthy. Plus, McCarthy really liked Callahan last season, so much so that he had him on the 53-man roster on two separate occasions.
Callahan, who survived the final cuts and then was released Oct. 13 when the Packers needed a roster spot, spent eight days as a member of the New Orleans Saints and four days as a member of the Cleveland Browns last year before the Packers re-signed him Dec. 2, this time to the practice squad. He has experience in three NFL systems.
Hill will join the room soon and his main focus for now is catching up on everything in the playbook. The other three set a high bar when it comes to football understanding and Hill will need to show he can keep up with the pace when he comes back to town.
He spent a year with former Packers quarterback Ty Detmer, who is the offensive coordinator at BYU, and so he has some background knowledge about the NFL.
“I had a lot of conversations with a lot of BYU guys who played quarterback and first thing they always stressed was learn the playbook,” Hill said. “Make sure you understand the playbook and what’s going on, so I really stressed that.
“So I was prepared for practice. I think moving forward, I’m going to make sure that I do the best I can to understand intricacies of the playbook so I can be inserted and know what’s going on.”
For now, he has his foot in the door. Whether he sticks around is something training camp will answer.