The education of Texans rookie quarterback Davis Mills remains a steady work in progress.
Like most NFL rookie passers, Mills occasionally misreads a coverage or locks onto his primary receiver and allows defensive backs to jump on his throws for interceptions.
Mills is improving, though, and displayed some encouraging signs during an up-and-down NFL debut against the Green Bay Packers.
The overall takeaway from Mills’ opening game: not bad at all, but he needs to keep getting better.
Mills delivered on the tougher throws. He missed some of the easier ones when he was inaccurate, leading to a squandered red-zone scoring opportunity when he was intercepted by Packers safety Kabion Fento in the red zone while trying to force a pass to tight end Kahale Warring.
Mills went 11 for 22 for 112 yards, no touchdowns and a 48.1 passer rating.
“Yeah, he's a guy who's big, he's strong, he's smart,” Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said. “He's a better athlete than when you see him kind of walk out here. He kind of looks goofy, right? Especially with that bucket hat, we've got to get that off of him. He's a better athlete than you would guess by just seeing him on the hoof.
“He's got a strong arm. He's smart. So it's just going to be reps and just feeling the defense and getting a feel for the speed of the game. Again, I think all rookie quarterbacks have an adjustment to make when it comes to that, but he's doing a good job preparing and putting in the work and watching the film. We're pleased with where he's at. Now he's got to take another step this week.”
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.
“Davis came in and saw his first, “Oh my gosh, this is the NFL” moment on that three-step, then ran through, he got hit, came off the field. I’m like, ‘Did that hurt? You okay?’ And he was like, ‘No.’” Kelly said. “So, he was fine after he took his first hit. He did good. The whole thing with him is just going to be to accumulate as many reps as possible. He's only had however many, 257 throws or whatever since high school. Just for him to continue to grow and develop, and the more he sees defenses, the more he gets comfortable with our route running, the more improvement we're going to see each and every day.”
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.
Now, the Texans want Mills to keep getting better as he prepares for his second preseason gameSaturday nightagainst the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
“With Davis, just continue to cut back on mistakes and don't have my missed throws,” Kelly said. I think going back and watching the tape, there was probably one or two throws in particular that come to mind right now that immediately he would want back. He's going to make those throws nine-out-of-10 times. It just so happened that on that one screen, the ball slipped out of his hands. To eliminate that, let's get rid of those throws, let’s make those plays, and then again, continue to grow in his patience in the pocket.”
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," wide receiver Chris 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."
Starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor completed all four of his throws against Green Bay in his only drive of the game, but the drive stalled in the red zone and the Texans had to settle for a field goal.
“I thought Tyrod came out and did what we asked him to do, made some good throws,” Kelly said. “He was able to move the ball. Obviously, we want to get a touchdown in that situation, not a field goal, but he came out and played well and we were crisp with our operation.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.