GREEN BAY, Wis. — Taysom Hill still isn’t sure how it happened. One minute, the Green Bay Packers rookie was sitting in his seat in the bowels of Lambeau Field, minding his own business and getting ready for another typical quarterback meeting. The next, Aaron Rodgers was commandeering the video screen at the front of the room and firing up a YouTube clip.
“I don’t know how Aaron found it or who showed it to him,” Hill recounted this week, as he prepped for Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Los Angeles Rams — an opportunity for him to win the Packers’ No. 3 quarterback job. “But one thing led to another and the next thing you know, he’s up on the computer pulling it up in front of all the QBs.”
The video, which lasted only 25 seconds but was replayed several times that afternoon, showed Hill, then a junior at BYU, bolting the pocket in a game against Texas. He sprints to his left, breaks into the open, angles toward the pylon and, peeking to his right as a speeding Longhorns defender has the angle on him, leaps over the diving would-be tackler at the 7-yard line and scores.
The 30-yard touchdown run ignited what ended up being a 41-7 rout of the Longhorns. It also typified everything that makes Hill the tantalizing quarterback prospect he is; a strong-armed, athletic, smart guy who has piqued the interest not only of the Packers’ coaching staff but also the two-time NFL MVP.
“He’s super athletic,” Rodgers said. “And he’s just a great kid.”
Three years after that play for BYU – and a few days after Rodgers’ impromptu highlight show – Hill did essentially the same thing to the Washington Redskins in the Packers’ second preseason game. With the Packers trailing by a field goal with 6 minutes to go, Hill pulled the ball down on a second-and-3 from the Redskins’ 23-yard line. Once again, he broke the pocket, got into the open field and started angling to his left.
This time, though, there was no hurdling. Instead, Hill decelerated at just the right moment, causing two Washington defenders to nearly crash into each other as Hill cut back. He then stiff-armed a third defender as he crossed the goal line on what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.
Watching back home in Salt Lake City, Utah, Hill’s brother-in-law, David Nixon, smiled. A former linebacker at BYU who played for five teams in four years in the NFL, Nixon – whose sister Emily married Hill in 2014 – had seen the show before.
“It’s a legendary play here in Utah. That highlight still gets played here in the local media,” Nixon said as he prepared to travel to Green Bay to watch Hill in person — and see the venerable stadium he never got to play in himself. “As a defensive player, I can sympathize. You take a certain angle with him, what you think is the right angle, but you’re not expecting the guy to run a 4.4[-second 40-yard dash]. These poor guys would take poor angles and, Boom! — he’s gone.”
There might not have been a more athletic quarterback in this year’s draft than the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Hill. At his pre-draft pro day in March, Hill ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash and had a vertical leap of 38.5 inches – both of which would have been the best of any quarterback prospect at the NFL scouting combine. But after a star-crossed college career that saw him suffer four season-ending injuries in his five years at BYU, he went undrafted.
The injuries began as a true freshman in 2012, when he played in six games, winning both of his starts against Hawaii and Utah State before hyperextending his knee on a late hit against the Aggies and suffering a torn hamstring tendon.
His best — and healthiest — season came in 2013, when he threw for 2,923 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore. Then, viewed as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate as a junior, his promising season ended with a broken left leg, again suffered in an October game against Utah State.
A Lisfranc foot injury in the season opener ended his 2015 after two quarters of football. And while he was granted a medical redshirt and returned last year for a fifth season, an elbow injury in the regular-season finale — again against Utah State — forced him to miss his final college game, the Poinsettia Bowl.
“I probably haven’t coached many quarterbacks as fast as he is. He has true long speed. So that’s a first,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said of Hill, who in two preseason games has completed 10 of 16 passes for 118 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions (105.7 rating). “I’ve had athletic quarterbacks in the past, but no one with Taysom’s speed.
“He has plenty of arm strength. He’s right there equal with our guys. [But] you’re getting a competitive guy that can use his legs as a weapon. That’s one of the things we talked about prior to these preseason games — it’s not always going to be pretty with protection. You get different guys working with different guys, so any time you see green grass, just go ahead and take it. And I think he took that to a new level [against Washington] with the long touchdown run.”
With Rodgers’ preseason work over — he ended up playing in two games, for three series and 26 snaps — and No. 2 quarterback Brett Hundley unlikely to play more than a series or two, the Packers will give Hill and second-year quarterback Joe Callahan most of the game to duke it out for the No. 3 spot. Hill worked ahead of Callahan at practice Tuesday, so presumably he’ll be the first to play.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy loves both Hill and Callahan, who was the story of training camp a year ago, but there’s no way the team will keep more than three quarterbacks. In fact, with some tough decisions to make at other positions, the Packers may only keep Rodgers and Hundley on the roster, waive both Callahan and Hill during Saturday’s final cuts and hope one of them makes it through to the practice squad.
“This will be another opportunity to showcase what I can do, and I’m going to do my best to make the most of it,” said the 27-year-old Hill, who did not play in last week’s third preseason game at Denver, as Rodgers played two series and Hundley handled the remainder of the game. “I’ve really enjoyed my time and my experience here so far. And I’d love to stay around.
“I came out here, and you don’t really know what to expect. Everyone talks about that jump from college to the NFL — the speed, the size of the game and all that — and I would say I had moments in practice where I was like, ‘Hey, I can do this. I can compete with these guys and I can compete at a high level.’
“And then, as I continued to have opportunities, my confidence in myself and my ability to play at this level has increased. I mean, these guys are really good, you know? And to go out and compete with them has been awesome.”
Editor’s note: Jason Wilde covers the Green Bay Packers for ESPN Wisconsin and hosts Wilde & Tausch with former Packers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays on ESPN Milwaukee and ESPN Madison.