GREEN BAY — David Nixon’s tour of Wisconsin’s best golf courses began with a 5:50 a.m. flight Wednesday morning out of Salt Lake City.
After touchdown, his foursome — also including his father, his brother, and one of his best friends — was headed straight to Erin Hills, site of the 2017 U.S. Open. Then, it was up to Green Bay, for a tee time today at Thornberry Creek, which hosted an LPGA event earlier this summer.
On Friday, he’ll be off to Kohler for a dream double-dip at Whistling Straits, where the 2020 Ryder Cup will be played, and Blackwolf Run.
And the best part of Nixon’s 72-hole whirlwind? His brother-in-law, Taysom Hill, isn’t going to be able to join him.
Not that Nixon doesn’t love Hill, who is in fact the primary reason for the trip — to see Hill, locked in a battle for the Green Bay Packers’ No. 3 quarterback job, play in tonight’s preseason finale against the Los Angeles Rams at Lambeau Field.
But while Nixon, who spent time with five teams during his four-year NFL playing career, is no slouch on the links, he’s not as good as Hill, who married Nixon’s sister Emily in 2014.
“Here’s the thing with Taysom: He’s the most competitive guy I’ve ever been around, and he’s such a unique athlete,” Nixon said. “We go play golf, he’s a scratch golfer; we play basketball, he’s doing 360 dunks. He’s competitive at everything — ping-pong, Spikeball, any type of sport. He’s always been competitive. (And) he’s a pretty incredible golfer.”
That shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s followed Hill’s path since he signed with the Packers as a free agent out of BYU in the spring. After a star-crossed college career that saw him sustain four season-ending injuries in his five years — including a medical redshirt year — with the Cougars, Hill has stated a pretty emphatic case to be the Packers’ No. 3 quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers and backup Brett Hundley.
Rodgers won’t play against the Rams, and it’s possible Hundley won’t, either. Given that Hill got the first turn at first-team reps in practice Tuesday ahead of last year’s third quarterback Joe Callahan, it’s possible Hill will get the start and he and Callahan will each play a half.
“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 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.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week that he’d love to keep all four quarterbacks — perhaps three on the 53-man roster and a fourth on the practice squad — but that’s highly unlikely. In fact, with a host of tough roster calls to make at other positions, it’s possible the Packers will only keep Rodgers and Hundley on the roster, waive both Callahan — the team’s preseason darling a year ago — and Hill during Saturday’s final cutdown, and put one of them on the practice squad.
So while the last exhibition game might not be important to players whose roster spots are locked up — most of the starters won’t even dress for the game — it’ll be crucial to Hill’s argument for a spot on the team. In two preseason games, he’s completed 10 of 16 passes for 118 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions (105.7 rating) while also rushing eight times for 52 yards — including a game-winning 23-yard touchdown scramble to beat Washington on Aug. 19.
“He’s super-athletic and he’s just a great kid. He’s been working really hard,” Rodgers said.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. He also had a 10-foot, 2-inch broad jump and ran the 3-cone drill in 7.03 seconds. But his injury history overshadowed his athleticism and he was not among the 10 quarterbacks drafted.
“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. “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.”
Hill has had other eye-catching moments, including a perfectly thrown touchdown on a jump ball to basketball player-turned-wide receiver Michael Clark late in the preseason opener against Philadelphia. But it’s been the way he’s grasped the offense that has allowed him to do the impressive things he’s done physically.
Hill said he has been surprised by how much of the Packers offense rides on the quarterback’s decision-making — “If there’s a bad play or something goes wrong, ultimately it’s our fault because we need to change protection, we need to change the play,” he said — but as he’s developed a better understanding of the adjustments and checks he needs to make, the better he’s played.
Now, he wants to put together more of those moments and earn his keep.
“I came out here, and you don’t really know what to expect,” Hill said. “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.”