Thursday, December 23, 2021

McClain: How Pep Hamilton is molding another rookie QB in Davis Mills


Texans quarterback Davis Mills, left, has made strides this season under the watchful eye of QBs coach Pep Hamilton, right, who previously helped develop Andrew Luck and Justin Hebert. Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Mills replaced the injured Tyrod Taylor in the second game at Cleveland and made his first start a week later against Carolina. Mills returned to the bench when Taylor was healthy. When Taylor struggled, Mills was named the starter for the last five games. He earned his first victory at Jacksonville.

“I think having to play when he did has benefited him to this point,” Culley said. “He’s progressing very well.”

And Hamilton has a lot to do with that. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, who calls the plays, and Taylor also work closely with Mills, who’s thrown 10 touchdown passes and nine interceptions with a rating of 82.2 — higher than every rookie other than New England’s Mac Jones.

“Pep’s making sure fundamentally that he’s (Mills) doing things he needs to do to improve,” Culley said. “He doesn’t make the same mistakes twice. His decision making is much better now. The game has kind of slowed down for him.”

When helping develop Mills, at times Hamilton has used Herbert as an example of what he’s trying to teach. Herbert has thrown 32 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions to lead the Chargers to an 8-6 record this season.

Mills said most of what Hamilton showed him about Herbert was during training camp.

“A lot of it was pulling up old film of what they (Hamilton and Herbert) were doing last year,” Mills said. “His foundational teachings of what he likes from the quarterback position, and he was using Justin as an example.

“Pep has done a ton for me growing in this offense and as a quarterback.”

Mills, who communicates on a daily basis with Hamilton, was asked to provide an example of their weekday routine when they’re preparing for the next opponent.

“Day to day, we (offense) go through the install in the morning,” Mills said. “The night before or the morning (of), he’s always previewing me on what’s going into that install and making sure I can get questions asked before the whole team is able to go over it.

“Afterward, we’re able to walk through it before the pre-practice walkthrough and practice. (After practice) we go back and make sure everything is fully cleared up. Once we’re good to go with that day’s work, we get a head start on the following day.

“Tonight, I’m going to get a head start on the third down game plan. He makes cutups on the computer for different things and situations we should look out for. He’s ultimately been a huge help, along with TK (Kelly) and all the other quarterbacks in the room. It’s kind of a big collaboration.”

Mills pointed to something that’s helping his development.

“I think the biggest thing is just staying to my routine, that quarterback routine that we’ve laid out with Pep and other quarterbacks and the strength staff,” he said. “Just staying consistent and making sure I’m getting my full week of preparation (and being) confident (going) into the game.”

Mills’ teammates are seeing him make progress.

“What I’ve seen is his confidence just grow and grow,” running back Rex Burkhead said. “Any time something bad happens, he’s the same person throughout the game. He’s so levelheaded. He’ll be on the sideline like, ‘Hey, sorry I missed you there. Let’s get the next one.’

“The sky’s the limit. I look forward to seeing what he can do.”

Mills has three games left against playoff contenders — the Chargers, 49ers and Titans.

“He’s going to see a lot of different coverages,” receiver Phillip Dorsett said. “I feel like he can make every throw, and with experience, I think he can get a lot more comfortable. This offense (system) is perfect for him.”

Mills spends a lot of time in the weight room with strength coach Mike Eubanks and his staff.

“He’s gotten stronger, and he becomes more durable with that,” Culley said. “It’s not so much getting his arm stronger, it’s more about getting his body ready and being able to take the punishment to play that position.”

Culley was asked about Mills improving his mechanics working with Hamilton.

“Pep’s as good as there is understanding how to throw the ball, how to be a passer instead of a thrower,” Culley said. “They’ve worked well together doing that.”

Sunday will be the first of three more opportunities for Mills to show general manager Nick Caserio and the coaches he’s learning and improving and deserving of being the starter in 2022.

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