Michael Cohen and Aaron Nagler gave their initial takeaways from Monday's training camp practice. (Aug. 7, 2017)
GREEN BAY - Here’s a fun fact about quarterback Taysom Hill, an undrafted free agent who signed with the Green Bay Packers in May: Four years ago, during Hill’s sophomore season at Brigham Young, he ran for 1,344 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
Here’s a fun fact about former Packers running back Eddie Lacy: Five years ago, during his third and final season at Alabama, Lacy ran for the highest single-season yardage total of his collegiate career — and it was less than Hill’s career high at BYU. At his best, Lacy ran for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns en route to becoming a second-round pick.
To be fair, there are myriad reasons why such a comparison is unfair, untenable and unrealistic as it relates to both parties. The underlying message, however, is crystal clear: Taysom Hill has special athletic ability.
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“That’s always been the trick when you’re in practice wearing a red jersey, being able to show what you can do with the ball when plays break down and stuff,” Hill said last week. “We’ve seen a little bit of it, but again, you don’t really get to see that stuff until you get into a live action setting.”
Which is why Thursday’s exhibition game against the Philadelphia Eagles can’t come soon enough for Hill, who will turn 27 two weeks after his professional debut. His is a highlight tape filled with designed runs, timely scrambles and elusiveness reminiscent of running backs, which means that practice at Ray Nitschke Field is far from the best environment to showcase those skills.
In fact, the same can be said of all three backup quarterbacks. Brett Hundley, the de facto starter with Aaron Rodgers unlikely to play Thursday, led the league in passing yards during the exhibition season as a rookie, and many of his best plays were made outside the pocket or after buying himself some extra time. And Joe Callahan, who played the most of any quarterback during last year’s camp, throws so well on the run that he often appears more comfortable with his feet in motion.
Thursday offers the first chance for all three players to infuse athleticism into their performance.
“Oh, it’s going to happen,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. “It’s preseason football, so there’s a lot of guys that are out there for the first time with big eyes. We’re prepping them right now about running. Hey, if you get the opportunity and things break down, use your legs. That’s another weapon for us. It’s definitely something that will be emphasized, especially in these preseason games.”
Said Hill: “The reality is — and we see Aaron do it all the time — is that plays break down, the quarterback can get out of the pocket and make some things happen. That’s where we want to make plays happen and keep the chains moving.”
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Hill, in particular, is an incredible athlete. At his pro day earlier this year, Hill ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds and tacked on a vertical leap of 38½ inches and a broad jump of 10 feet 2 inches.
Here are Hill’s numbers compared to the other rookie skill players drafted by the Packers this season:
» Taysom Hill, quarterback: 4.45 seconds, 38½ inches, 10 feet 2 inches.
» Jamaal Williams, tailback: 4.54 seconds, 33 inches, 10 feet 3 inches.
» Aaron Jones, tailback: 4.58 seconds, 37½ inches, 10 feet 7 inches.
» Devante Mays, tailback: 4.51 seconds, 40½ inches, 10 feet 9 inches.
» Malachi Dupre, wide receiver: 4.50 seconds, 39½ inches, 11 feet 3 inches.
» DeAngelo Yancey, wide receiver: 4.52 seconds, 35½ inches, 10 feet 1 inch.
In many ways, Hill’s collegiate career was a demonstration of the pros and cons of mobile quarterbacks. When healthy, Hill was among the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football. He finished his career with 9,744 yards of total offense and 75 combined touchdowns in only 37 games.
But attached to that production is a freshman season that lasted only six games (knee injury), a junior season that lasted five games (broken fibula, ligament damage in his ankle) and a senior season that lasted one game (Lisfranc foot injury). Ultimately, Hill was granted a redshirt year and started 12 games in 2016 before suffering a triceps injury in the regular-season finale.
“I’ve caught a lot of grief because I’ve had a number of injuries because I’m a mobile guy and I do run around a little bit,” Hill said in May. 'My answer was I’ll always do what it takes to win games. I’ll lay it all on the line.”
Thursday night will be no different.
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