GREEN BAY – If the Green Bay Packers keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster, they might have to cut a promising wide receiver, cornerback or linebacker.
If Joe Callahan or Taysom Hill makes it through the cut down next Saturday, it’s going to be because they left general manager Ted Thompson no choice but to leave them off the list of waiver requests he sends into the NFL office.
As much talent as the Packers have on both sides of the ball, they face a tall order.
“I’m obviously new to the business, but I’m aware of the dog-eat-dog nature of the NFL,” said Hill, the 27-year-old rookie from Brigham Young. “I know there’s no guarantees in this business, especially coming in as an undrafted guy. I know there’s potential for both Joe and I to get cut.”
The Packers certainly could get through a season with Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley as their two quarterbacks and not think twice about it. But Hundley will be a restricted free agent next year and Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy have to think about developing a replacement in case he leaves.
The ideal situation is to have someone working on the practice squad where he doesn’t count against the 53-man roster and gets to participate in game preparation with Rodgers. Then next season, he has a year of quality practice work under his belt and a better understanding of the system.
“You’re just looking for somebody that you think has the skill set to develop into something down the road I think is the big thing,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said of a third quarterback. “That’s what you’re looking for as a coach.
“And I think he (Hill) or Joe have not hit that ceiling yet, so there’s still room for growth in both of those guys.”
Last year, Callahan forced Thompson’s hand by completing 54 of 88 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns in four exhibition appearances. He benefited from the fact McCarthy needed quarterback insurance because Hundley was coming off an ankle injury and Thompson had some leeway with the roster because two backup players on defense were starting the year on the suspended list.
Still, McCarthy was high on Callahan after watching the rookie carry his team during the exhibition season and Thompson wouldn’t have kept him if he didn’t think he was NFL-caliber.
This year, Hill, with his big arm and off-the-charts athleticism, is the preseason “it guy.” As the Packers head into their third exhibition game Saturday at Denver (8 p.m. kickoff), a lot of eyes will be following him around Mile High.
In five series over two games, Hill has led the offense on touchdown drives of eight plays, 82 yards and seven plays, 65 yards. Of those five series, only one was a three-and-out and the five combined produced 189 drive yards.
Hill has completed 10 of 16 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown (105.7 rating) and gained 52 yards rushing on eight carries, including a 23-yard game-winning touchdown against Washington. His camp has gone about as good as it could for a guy who came in as the fourth quarterback.
“The reality is I came here, I wanted an opportunity, I wanted to play in the NFL,” Hill said. “I think I’m very capable, I think I have the talent to play in the NFL. My mindset is to make the most of the opportunities. I certainly have really, really enjoyed my experience and would like to stay here.”
That, unfortunately for him, is not a guarantee.
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Though Callahan made the cut last year, he lasted only four weeks on the roster. The Packers exposed him to waivers, hoping to bring him back on the practice squad, but the New Orleans Saints claimed him.
Just like that, his Packers career appeared over.
“It was stressful,” said Callahan, who was cut by the Saints, claimed by the Cleveland Browns and then cut again, only to wind up back with the Packers on their practice squad.
Callahan hasn’t had the same success he had a year ago. He also hasn’t had the same opportunity because all four quarterbacks are healthy, unlike last year when Hundley was laid up.
Callahan played just two series against Washington last week because it was Hill’s turn to get a full quarter and both drives were three-and-outs. Neither he nor Hill knew during the week what the quarterback rotation would be in Denver.
“I hope I keep getting more opportunities,” Callahan said. “Washington, obviously, didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I’m just going to keep moving forward. Whatever chances I get I’m going to make sure I make the most of it, going through my reads and executing.”
Hill is in Packers camp because of his size (6-2, 230 pounds), a cannon arm and receiver-like testing numbers (4.46-second 40-yard dash, 38½-inch vertical jump). He was passed up in the draft because he is 27 (he went on a two-year Mormon mission and had a medical redshirt year while at BYU) and played just one year in a pro-style offense.
He chose to sign with the Packers because he knew Rodgers wouldn’t get a lot of playing time in the exhibition games and there would be more opportunity for him to play. From the start, his strong arm was apparent, but he had a lot to learn about footwork and pro defenses.
After his big night in Washington, Hill came back in practice this week and sliced up the Packers’ defense while playing for the scout team. Neither he nor Callahan get many reps practicing the Packers’ offense so they have to prove themselves running the opponents’ scheme.
“I certainly try to make the most of them,” Hill said of the scout-team snaps. “Sometimes it’s challenging because I try to make our footwork fit into a different scheme. So, I’m still getting work in our stuff.
“Sometimes it’s challenging and you have to just make the most of it, whatever that play is. I’m trying to make something with every play I get. I’m trying to give the defense a good look. When you make throws on time and stuff like that, that’s the idea.”
As much as Hill has progressed, Callahan still has two games to show he’s back to the guy who was leading the offense up and down the field last year. He is not as physically gifted as Hill — Rodgers is the only one of the other three more athletic — and so he has to show he’s better equipped to handle live action.
Callahan knows what he’s up against and it’s not just Hill. He has to either make the Packers keep him or show somebody else he’s worthy of a job.
“I made it through one year in the NFL going all over the place,” he said. “But that’s just the way it is sometimes. It’s the life of a backup quarterback. You have to go where you’re needed. I’m going to keep fighting to make sure I make a roster somewhere.”