GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Eyes darting, reading the defense on the fly and looking confident in the pocket, Texans rookie quarterback Davis Mills rifled a throw over the middle to rookie wide receiver Nico Collins.
Mills delivered some sharp throws with a relatively high degree of difficulty where he displayed accuracy and timing, including a 15-yard strike on the sideline to veteran wide receiver Chris Conley.
Although Mills had some encouraging moments in his first NFL preseason game Saturday night against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, the strong-armed third-round draft pick from Stanford also had too many of the inconsistent moments of a rookie as he was inaccurate on some throws and squandered a prime red-zone scoring opportunity.
Trying to force the football to tight end Kahale Warring, Mills was intercepted by Packers safety Kabion Ento at the Packers' 4-yard line. Mills completed just half of his throws, going 11 for 22 for 112 yards and a 48.1 passer rating.
"Davis, as I've said before, for him something bad happens, he comes back, he's got that next-play mentality," Texans coach David Culley said. "I think he held up very well from the start to the finish when he was in there. He did things we were trying to get him to do and when things weren't right the positive thing about him is he comes back and those things don't bother him."
Mills was sacked by linebacker Oren Burks on his opening drive and went three-and-out on his first two drives. Mills found a rhythm at times, including his 17-yard pass to Keke Coutee, a 24-yarder to Collins and a 13-yarder to Anthony Miller.
"He went out there and competed, he made some plays in the passing game," starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. "He got guys in the right spots in the running game as well. It's something to build from. There's always ways to improve."
Mills has bounced back from a five-interception practice at training camp during which he struggled in a red-zone drill and had one pass returned for a touchdown by safety Justin Reid.
"I noticed poise," Conley said. "As a quarterback, you've got to have a short memory and snap back when you make mistakes, highs lows, I think he did a really good job of that and he's continuing to do that.
"With Davis, we had 3rd-and-12 and we were able to put on a deep route he really let the ball go before I came out of my break and that's good trust. I haven't had as much time to work with Davis as Tyrod. The fact that he was able to put that ball in a spot where only I could get to it was a very good throw. Not the first time, I've been able to catch from him in progress. To see him do that on this type of stage is encouraging."
During practice this week, Mills showed improved command of the offense, confidence and accuracy.
A former blue-chip recruit from Atlanta, Mills is keeping the ups and downs in perspective.
“Something that always stuck with me is the little quote: It's never as bad as you think it is, and it's never as good as you think it is," Mills said this week. "I try to keep my head up and just continually improve.
“One of the things I've always tried to pride myself that I'm a confident person, and you kind of have to be as a quarterback. You can't let those little mistakes faze you. The biggest thing on my mind is the next play, and that's the only thing that matters. You have somewhat of freedom because it's early on, but it's a tough business. Obviously, I want to protect the football.”
Although veteran Tyrod Taylor is slated to be the starting quarterback for the Texans, how Mills adapts to the NFL is a major point of emphasis for the Texans as they only have Taylor under a one-year contract and disgruntled and embattled Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson has issued a standing trade request.
“He’s doing a good job,” defensive tackle Vincent Taylor said Wednesday. “He’s just got to keep coming out here and keep doing what he’s doing, doing what the coaches are asking him to do, and it’s going to help the team.”
Signed to a four-year contract worth $5.22 million that includes a $1.157 million signing bonus, Mills had just 11 starts in college due to a knee injury. Playing in just five games last season, he was an honorable-mention All-Pac-12 selection who passed for 1,508 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He set a single-game school record with a 504-yard performance against Washington State. As a sophomore, he passed for 1,960 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Texans coach David Culley said he wants to see more consistency from Mills, but this is largely what the team expected when they drafted him and they’re encouraged by how he has reacted to mistakes and how he has absorbed knowledge from setbacks.
What does that mean?
“That he has the right stuff that a quarterback has to have because there's going to be bad plays,” Culley said. “Not only going to be bad plays, but there will be bad series. He would be a good fit in any offense from the standpoint in this league. We knew when we drafted him what we were getting. He hasn't not shown those things we felt like he was going to be, and he's progressing every day and getting there.”
While Mills learns on the job, he leans on Culley, offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton and his fellow quarterbacks. That includes gaining information from Watson, who led the NFL in passing yardage last season.
“He's helped out a lot with what he's done with me,” Mills said of Watson. “Any questions I have, like the other guys too, he's an open book, and he's taught me a lot.”
Because the Texans have no intentions of rushing Mills onto the field in the regular season, they have time to evaluate him and determine whether he’s their future franchise quarterback or if they should draft one in the first round in the 2022 NFL draft.
Mills’ arm strength, size and classic throwing mechanics are rare and intriguing enough that several NFL general managers and scouts have stated privately he would have likely been a high first-round draft pick next year if he had remained at Stanford for his senior year.
“I think I've done pretty well so far,” Mills said. “ Obviously, there's still a lot to learn. It's a new offense for me. So I'm just trying to study as much as I can, learn from the older guys, and pick up and improve every day.”
When the Texans face the Green Bay Packers in a preseason gameSaturday nightat Lambeau Field, Mills is expected to play a significant amount of steps. It’s an important milestone in his career.
“I'm just happy if I get to play on Saturday, kind of obviously go out there and show what I can do,” Mills said. “I'll have really talented players around me on the same team that I'm looking forward to going out there and playing with, and I'm looking forward to having a lot of fun.
“Obviously, I had a little rough patch of a couple reps practices where I want to improve on. Obviously, I had some turnovers, but I know protecting the football is the most important thing in the NFL. So, I've got to be better with that. I think I've done well the past week or so improving that.”