For a small-school player to get a look in the NFL, he must have, first and foremost, spectacular production.
Wesley College quarterback Joe Callahan certainly had that. And that’s why Callahan signed an undrafted free-agent contract with the Green Bay Packers.
“Talking with Ted (Thompson) and Eliot Wolf, he’s the most prolific quarterback coming out of Division III over there at Wesley. You can never ignore production,” coach Mike McCarthy said after Friday’s rookie orientation practice. “I think what we do is different than some of the things that he’s done, but I think anybody that has that much production definitely has earned an opportunity.”
As a senior, Callahan won the Gagliardi Trophy — the Division III equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. He passed for a Division III record 5,063 yards and threw for 55 touchdowns. He completed 69.8 percent of his passes and averaged 389.5 passing yards per game. As a sophomore, he put himself on the map with NCAA playoff records of 633 passing yards and eight touchdown passes in a quarterfinal loss to perennial powerhouse Mount Union.
“It was pretty crazy,” Callahan said on Saturday. “We were actually losing at the end of the first quarter 31-0 and we just had a big comeback.”
That game got him on the map, but nobody goes to a Division III school with realistic aspirations of playing in the NFL. Some have made it and enjoyed success — Bill Schroeder did it for the Packers after being a sixth-round pick in 1994. Others who have been drafted in recent years include Mount Union receivers Pierre Garcon by Indianapolis in 2008 and Cecil Shorts by Jacksonville in 2011, and Hobart offensive lineman Ali Marpet by Tampa Bay in the second round last year. London Fletcher, who retired following the 2013 season with a linebackers-record 215 consecutive starts, is probably the best Division III player in NFL history.
“It’s something you never know, coming from a Division III school,” Callahan said. “You just have to stay optimistic. After my season finished, I made sure I trained and made the most of every opportunity I had, and luckily the Packers called me after the draft.”
This camp is a whirlwind for all of the rookies but especially for the quarterbacks. A receiver needs to know his route. A running back needs to know the hole or who he’s blocking. A lineman needs to know who to block. A quarterback has to know it all and trust that a receiver he doesn’t know is going to be in the right place at the right time to catch the pass. Thinking, rather than simply playing and relying on experience, isn’t conducive to good quarterback play. So, while Callahan threw some impressive passes and showed a nice arm, he also threw a couple of wounded ducks as he adjuts to a new playbook and new footwork.
“It’s a mental workout as much as it is a physical workout,” Callahan said. “Everybody here is going through it, for the most part. It’s just something you have to get used to. You have to get used to the verbiage, the timing with the receivers, where the running back’s going. Everything’s new. It’s something that takes time and takes repetition and making sure you’re taking notes in the meetings, studying the playbook each night. It’s been a great experience and a process so far.”
Callahan has an excellent opportunity in front of him. The top of the depth chart is set in stone, with Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley. However, with Scott Tolzien signing with Indianapolis in free agency, the No. 3 position is up for grabs. Ryan Williams, who barely played at the University of Miami as a senior in 2014, signed with Green Bay at the end of last season. Callahan is the only other quarterback under contract. Gary Nova, who starred at Rutgers but went undrafted last year and didn’t get invited to a training camp, was part of Green Bay’s contingent of tryout players this weekend.
“They’ve told us from the start it’s always a competition,” Callahan said. “I feel like Aaron and Hundley have it locked down. Ryan’s been a big help this whole minicamp but everything’s a competition, from the drills to the unit periods that we have. You always want to make sure that you’re performing to the best of your abilities because you know they’re filming everything and watching everything.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.