Billy Turner, a National Football League player for seven years, is enjoying his best pro season as a versatile lineman for one of the top teams, the Green Bay Packers.
The 2010 graduate of Mounds View High School is the starting right tackle while also filling in at left tackle for the Packers, whose 12-3 record and 474 points are tops in the National Conference. He was their starting right guard last season.
Turner, who previously played for the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos, joined the Packers in 2019, signing for $28 million over four seasons.
Until this season, the 6-foot-5, 310-pound athlete mainly played guard. With the Packers, Turner has blocked much better at the tackle positions than he did at guard, and is regarded as a strong spot on the line, according to analysts covering the Packers.
Blocking for Aaron Rodgers has been a career highlight for the former North Dakota State star.
"He's (Rogers) one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time so, of course, you don't ever want to let him get a hit,” Turner told Packers.com, after helping the Packers beat New Orleans 37-30 in the third week of the season.
Turner, 29, had won the right tackle job in pre-season, but a knee injury late in training camp relegated him to backup duties the first two games. Against the Saints, in his first start, he got good reviews for keeping Saints All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan away from Rodgers.
Last season, he started all 18 games at right guard, and led the offensive line with 1,078 snaps. But according to Sports Info Solutions, he had 35 blown blocks, fifth most in the league at his position, so he had to win a job this season.
Head coach Matt LaFleur and offensive line coach Adam Stenavich decided to give Turner some time at right tackle this training camp, looking to replace longtime starter Bryan Bulaga, and liked what they saw from Turner at tackle.
Turner played left tackle, a critical position for protecting right-handed quarterbacks on their blind side, for three games after David Bakhtiari was injured, and held his own. He moved back to right tackle at halftime against San Francisco when Ricky Wagner was injured.
"Being an offensive lineman in the NFL you have to know that you're not always going to just play that one specific position," Turner told Packers.com. He praised Packer coaches for preparing linemen for multiple positions so “you're able to shuffle around."
Moving between the right and left sides of the line requires huge versatility. Turner told SI.com’s Packer Central that switching is more mental than physical: “OK, instead of pushing with this leg, I have to push with the opposite. Instead of throwing this hand first, I have to use this hand.”
He’s not the only Packer lineman being moved around due to injuries, Elton Jenkins, named last week to the Pro Bowl team, has played guard, center and tackle.
At Mounds View, Turner was a three-year starter at offensive and defensive tackle and helped the Mustangs go 26-8 and reach the state semifinals his last two years.
“Billy was an incredible player,” said Jim Galvin, activities director now, football coach then. “He was big, 6-4, 270, and could run really well, and had great feet. He was a devastating blocker at the line of scrimmage and we could pull him around the perimeter, too.”
Turner was also the baseball captain as a pitcher and first baseman. He played basketball until 10th grade when he gave up his winter sport due to stress on his knees.
“He does an incredible job in the community, too,” said Galvin, noting that Turner does a lot to help kids and was a vocal leader after the George Floyd death last summer. “He was on national TV shows, talking about racial justice.”
Turner lives in St. Paul and keeps in touch with his alma mater, attending at least one game a year and sometimes talking to the team, Galvin said.
His father, Maurice, had a four-year NFL career as a running back with Minnesota (1984-85), Green Bay (1985) and the New York Jets (1987). Maurice was an assistant coach with the Mustangs when his sons played. Billy’s younger brother Maurice Jr. was an all-state wide receiver and played for Northern Iowa.
Turner had a stellar career at North Dakota State, helping the Bison won three national championships. He was a consensus FCS All-American as a junior and senior and was impressive in the 2014 Senior Bowl, an all-star game with mostly Division I players.
The Miami Dolphins drafted him in the third round in 2014 as the 67th pick, then the highest selection for an NDSU player since 2002.
Turner had a tough time for a while. With the Dolphins, in 2016, he had to switch from right guard to left tackle on short notice when the starter was hurt, and gave up three sacks against Tennessee. He got released, was claimed by Baltimore on waivers, and released by the Ravens after three days. Five days later, the Denver Broncos claimed him off waivers. He stuck there but during the 2017 season, he suffered a broken hand in week six and went on injured reserve.
Turner had a good 2018 season with the Broncos, starting 11 games in place of injured starters, at right tackle four games and left guard seven games, which led to getting his career-turning deal with the Packers.