Taysom Hill still chasing dream while doing it all for Saints
METAIRIE – Taysom Hill’s ultimate career goal is to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
He works in season and out of season to become the leader of an offense, someone who makes big play after big play.
If that day does come, it won’t be for a while. In the meantime Hill has become a key member of the New Orleans Saints, demonstrating a rare ability to make significant plays with minimal opportunities.
Quarterback is just one of numerous jobs on Hill’s game-day business card.
“Taysom plays about eight different positions,” said Drew Brees, who occasionally relinquishes his quarterback position to Hill. “He plays tight end, he plays almost like a hybrid fullback, H-back position, he plays quarterback, right? He can run, he can throw.
“He plays (on) every special team, right? In a bunch of different areas. So (that) just requires a unique skill set.”
Hill, 6-foot-2, 221 pounds, had one of the most distinctive stat lines in recent memory in New Orleans’ 26-18 playoff-clinching victory at Atlanta on Thanksgiving night.
He deflected a Falcons punt, putting the Saints in scoring position and moments later he caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Brees. Later in the game he replaced Brees and ran 30 yards for a touchdown.
Hill attributed his success to the Falcons being preoccupied with Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook, creating opportunities “for little ole me.”
“He’s just a football player,” coach Sean Payton said after the game. “He’s neat to coach – the first one I’ve coached like him. We probably need to get him the ball even more. I don’t think there’s anyone that enjoys playing football more than him. That’s contagious. When a guy like him makes a play, you see guys get excited.
“That quality that a player has that endears himself to his teammates I think is very strong and important. He’s one of those players. He’s willing to do anything – but do it well.”
Last season, the Saints were trailing 14-3 toward the end of the third quarter of a game at Tampa Bay when Hill rushed in to block a punt for the first time in his life at any level of football.
That play set up a touchdown and triggered a 25-0 run that produced a win that wasn’t nearly as easy as the 28-14 final score suggested.
“You call those momentum-changing plays, right?” Brees said.
In addition to the blocked punt last season, Hill made 10 special teams tackles, returned 14 kickoffs for an average of 24.9 yards, converted two fake punts rushed, for 196 yards and two touchdowns, caught a touchdown pass in the NFC Championship Game and passed for 64 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.
He has been described as a Swiss Army knife and Brees referred to him as Payton’s “new toy.”
The irony in Hill’s development is that he’s making a name for himself at practically every position other than quarterback as he awaits an opportunity to play quarterback, but prior to coming to New Orleans a little more than two years ago he had been almost exclusively a quarterback.
“I’ve been a quarterback since I was a little guy,” Hill said.
His only non-quarterback experience before coming to the Saints came in high school as kicker, punter and a defensive back for what he called a few “one-offs” where he went into the game to help get a key defensive stop in playoff games.
He had a series of injuries during a five-year college career at BYU, but still played enough to pass for nearly 7,000 yards and 43 touchdowns and rush for more than 2,800 yards and 32 touchdowns.
Hill, who undertook a two-year LDS Church mission to Australia, was not drafted by an NFL team. He was 26 when he signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted rookie in 2017. He’s now 29.
“Going through the injuries that I did and going as an undrafted guy to go in and make a 53-man roster is not an easy thing to do,” Hill said.
He recalled sitting in the office of then Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, who had built his career as a mentor to quarterbacks, helped Aaron Rodgers develop into an MVP and won a Super Bowl.
McCarthy told Hill that he “deserved a 53-man roster spot”, but there wasn’t room for a third quarterback on the Packers roster that season. So they released him, hoping he would clear waivers and they could re-sign him to the practice roster.
The Saints put in a claim, but they were 11th in the pecking order and Payton wasn’t sure Hill would go unclaimed that long, but he did.
“We knew we had a real good athlete,” Payton said. “We were excited about it.”
Hill was inactive until Week 11 when Payton and his staff were discussing who would be inactive that week. Four of the inactive spots were automatically taken up by injured players, which limited the special teams options, and there were four healthy candidates for the remaining spot.
Payton turned to special teams coach Mike Westhoff and asked, “what about Hill?” and Westhoff replied, “I’ll take him.”
“I was all for it,” Hill said.
“That was his first exposure to the kicking game and special teams,” Payton said. “He played very well in that game. It kind of was born out of one extra spot because of injury.”
Gradually, Westhoff gave Hill additional responsibilities in practice and “it started to evolve.”
“As I entered the NFL, my mindset was to go take advantage of every opportunity and do my best to make a team and then help the team win,” Hill said. “I knew that someone was just going to have to take a chance on me. And luckily they did. It has been such a blessing for me.”
After seeing Hill for a season, Payton started creating ways to utilize him on offense prior to last season.
“Sometimes we spend too much time on what players can’t do and not enough time on what they can do,” Payton said, “and I think that’s a lesson for all of us.”
The Saints coaches want Hill to focus on his development as a quarterback during the off-season and training camp, telling him “we care a lot about your progression at that position.”
When Brees missed five games earlier this season because of a thumb injury, Payton turned to No. 2 quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and New Orleans went undefeated in Brees’ absence, demonstrating that Hill still has a way to go to become a starting quarterback.
Now Brees is back as good as ever and the team is 10-2 going into its game against San Francisco on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
It was a former San Francisco quarterback – Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young, who also played at BYU – whose name Payton invoked while discussing Hill during the preseason.
“I think the comparison is easy to make because Steve ran around and made plays that way,” Hill said, “but Steve was one of the best to ever play the position. I’m certainly not in a situation where I’m going to start making those comparisons.”
Payton’s point was that Hill, like Young, had an unusual skill set compared to most quarterbacks and had to find other ways to contribute while playing behind Joe Montana.
Hill said Young reached out to him when Hill was at BYU and Young “has been a good mentor to me.”
So has Brees, who could someday turn the reigns of the offense over to Hill. Both Brees and Bridgewater are in the final year of their contracts, though it’s unlikely Hill will get his chance to be a starting quarterback as soon as next season.
“We’ve seen a lot guys come into the NFL and play and maybe they play a little too early and they don’t stick around for a long time,” Hill said. “So I’m totally happy with the opportunity to come in and learn from a guy like Drew and still have the opportunity to play.
“Now I’m actually on the field and I can see how he manages a huddle game in, game out. I think that experience is invaluable. I certainly have different goals and plans for the rest of my career but, I am happy to help our team win in any way that I can.”
Hill isn’t the next Steve Young just yet and he might never be.
But what he is and always will be is the only Taysom Hill – and that’s just fine with the Saints.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…