Like father, like son: Billy Turner ready to 'have my own impact' with Packers
GREEN BAY – It started with a jump rope. Billy Turner, just a kindergartner at the time, couldn’t lift weights like his father. That didn’t stop him from trying.
He’d wander down the basement stairs, following like a shadow. As Dad set up the bench press or squat rack, little Billy watched. He asked questions. He wanted to show his muscles.
Maurice Turner handed his son a jump rope instead. If you really want to help yourself, he’d say, learn how to do this first. Quick feet make a good athlete. Strength comes with age.
So little Billy jumped rope while Dad pumped out reps.
“He’s been a gym rat,” Maurice said of the Green Bay Packers' new offensive lineman, “ever since we would let him go down there.”
Billy never put down the jump rope. In time, he started lifting weights. Wars were waged inside their basement, stocked with enough workout equipment to make your local club envy. “Everything that they have at a commercial gym,” Maurice said, “we have downstairs.” Maurice clung to his youth. Billy tried to catch his old man.
All that extra jumping rope paid off. Billy’s lower-body strength passed his father first. He was a freshman in high school the first time he power cleaned more pounds than Dad. By the time he returned home after his first semester at North Dakota State, where he received a football scholarship as an offensive tackle, their upper-body strength “wasn’t even close anymore.”
“He was (bench pressing) over 400,” Maurice said. “I was like, ‘Wow, he just blew by me.’”
Maurice noticed “a little more pep to that step” the day his son finally benched more than him. Still, Billy kept chasing. Maurice, a 12th-round pick in 1983, carved out a short NFL career. Billy wanted one, too.
Maurice was a running back for almost two full seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Late in his second year, Maurice played three games for the Packers. He never had a carry.
Billy also started his NFL career as a journeyman. He was drafted 67th overall (third round) in 2014 by the Miami Dolphins, where he played two full seasons and part of a third. Midway through 2016, starting left tackle Branden Albert was ill and missed a game against Tennessee. Backup left tackle Laremy Tunsil was out with an injured ankle. Billy started on the blindside, and it did not go well.
He allowed three sacks, two quarterback hits, five pressures and was called for a face-mask penalty. The Dolphins released him two days later.
Billy finished the 2016 season in Denver. He spent most of 2017 on injured reserve after breaking his hand, but started 11 games for the Broncos last season (four at right tackle, seven at left guard). He thought the Broncos might re-sign him, but another team came calling.
This season, he’ll play for the Packers. Just like Dad.
“It is a surreal moment,” Billy said last week, “but at the same time I’m ready to be here and to have my own impact.”
The Turners will be only the third father-son combination in the Packers’ 101-season history, according to Pro Football Hall of Fame records the team confirmed. Jim Flanigan Jr. played one season with the Packers in 2001, three decades after his father Jim Flanigan Sr. played four seasons as a Packers linebacker. Almost two decades after Elijah Pitts was a member of the Glory Years backfield, his son Ron Pitts played three seasons in the Packers secondary.
Maurice isn’t much interested in reliving his three games with the Packers. This moment, he said, is about his son. It was a long, winding road Billy took to Green Bay. Which made the financial security of his four-year, $28 million contract even sweeter.
An all-state offensive lineman at Mounds View High, Billy grew up in the shadow of the University of Minnesota. When it came time for college, the Gophers didn’t call. He instead attended FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, molding himself into an NFL-caliber player. Billy became the highest-drafted prospect out of NDSU since defensive end Phil Hansen, the 54th overall pick in 1991. (Quarterback Carson Wentz has since obliterated that mark, drafted second overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016. Billy blocked Wentz’s blindside for two seasons.)
The chip on Billy’s shoulder only grew in the NFL.
After the Dolphins released him, his hometown Minnesota Vikings tried to claim Billy on waivers, his father said. The Broncos ultimately beat them to him, but Billy thought for sure the offensive line-starved Vikings would be interested in free agency.
Instead, they became the second Minnesota team to not recruit him. It’s something Billy won’t soon forget. Maurice acknowledged it left his son “feeling slighted,” something Billy revealed last week when speaking with media for the first time after signing his contract.
“I thrive on fuel,” he said, “but at the same time that’s their loss, and they’re going to have to deal with me twice a year. So they’ll figure it out sooner or later, and they’re probably going to be too late at that point. I’ve signed my deal here, and this is where I wanted to be. So if you ask me, they’re just going to have to deal with the aftermath.”
In Billy Turner, the Packers hope they’re getting the type of athletic lineman who seamlessly fits into new head coach Matt LaFleur’s outside-zone scheme. If they keep Bryan Bulaga at right tackle, the clearest starting vacancy is right guard. Billy doesn’t look like a guard. He’s long and lean at 6-5, 310 pounds, a former tight end and defensive end who didn’t transition to the offensive line until midway through high school.
General manager Brian Gutekunst wouldn’t commit to the Packers starting Billy at right guard, though he indicated the interior might be where he “fits best” in LaFleur’s scheme. Gutekunst said Turner’s ability to move in space was a significant consideration in signing him.
“I’m athletic,” Billy said. “I’m an offensive lineman, but I don’t think that I move like an offensive lineman.”
It’s likely the Packers won’t officially decide Billy’s position until after the draft. With Billy’s ability to play tackle, Gutekunst could take the best lineman on his board. If that’s a guard, perhaps Billy could slide to the outside, where Bulaga’s age and health are uncertainties the team must consider.
Asked for a scouting report on his son, Maurice didn’t tip his hand. “He’s a football player,” Maurice said.
SILVERSTEIN: Brian Gutekunst gets aggressive despite risks
Billy has the build and athleticism to play tackle, Maurice acknowledged, but maybe a mindset better tailored for guard. Part of Billy’s struggles at tackle early in his career was an aggressiveness he’s had to mellow.
“I think that got him in trouble at first a little bit at the tackle spot,” Maurice said, “because you can’t be so aggressive. Whereas inside you can be more aggressive, because it’s in the box. He’s learned kind of how to channel that aggressiveness, but also understands that you’re not going to overpower people in the NFL. It’s just not going to happen.
“So you’ve got to pick and choose your moments and understand that technique and use what you have to your advantage. And I think that’s obviously his athleticism, and he’s long. So I think that’s kind of what he uses.”
There’s also Billy’s competitiveness. He gets it honestly. When it was suggested he might not be able to keep up with his son anymore in their weight room, Maurice, now 58, wasn’t about to agree. “Come on now,” he said.
Once his son blew past him, he got creative.
Now, Maurice explained, they don’t so much compete with weights. They work more with body resistance. Push-ups, pull-ups, crunches — anything to take advantage of the extra 100 pounds his son is carrying.
“At 58,” Maurice said, “you’ve got to get smarter. Once I saw that weight-wise he was ahead, we had to come up with a different strategy. Was not going to be down there lifting with him, and he’s grabbing these 150s and I’m grabbing these 100s. Was not going to happen. Not on my watch.
“If we go body weight things or comparable, I can still get him in some stuff. I’m moving 200 pounds, he’s moving 300. So there you go. But I do come out on top.”