Taysom Hill’s performance at organized team activities might have been one of the more anticipated events of the offseason.
The Saints were able to see the quarterback play some last year during practices, but those moments came on Wednesdays when he was running the scout team. But the plays he was running were foreign to him. He’d look at a card, attempt to run the play, and then go back and repeat the process. Nothing about it was natural. It wasn’t the stuff he was learning in meeting rooms; he was acting as someone else.
The coaching staff was able to see some of his tools, like how he throws the ball, moves around the pocket and runs, but it is hard to get an honest evaluation without seeing a quarterback run his own team’s plays.
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“There were a few days where I’d get to run the scout team, but I was joking around with a few guys that this is the first opportunity I’ve had to take a rep at quarterback in the New Orleans Saints’ offense,” Hill said. “The last three days have been a ton of fun.”
The past three days have been encouraging for Hill. He became a curiosity last season when Troy Aikman and Joe Buck said during a Fox broadcast that the Saints believe Hill is the quarterback of the future, comments coach Sean Payton later said were overblown and taken out of context.
But it's clear the Saints think Hill has promise, and that has started to show up early this week. Hill has made many plays, including on Thursday when he hit wide receiver Eldridge Massington on a deep pass down the right sideline. He later showed off his athleticism when he escaped a blitz and took off for a long gain.
These were the same traits New Orleans saw on tape when they noticed Hill last year while scouting Green Bay wide receiver Max McCaffrey. The Saints liked Hill so much they claimed him off waivers and kept him on the 53-man roster throughout the season, at times using him on special teams.
“He looks good,” Payton said Thursday. “We like where he is at. He is grinding and working hard. You guys saw (him make) a play today. When he does get outside the pocket, he can run, real fast. That presents a new challenge for the defense.”
There is still a long way to go. Hill has three practices under his belt. He still needs to beat out Tom Savage and J.T. Barrett for the backup job behind Drew Brees, which is not a guarantee. But the Saints do believe Hill has the traits to be a good quarterback.
He’s commanded the huddle well this week and is starting to prove that he’s comfortable with all the terminology and other things he picked up in the classroom last season.
He’s already done some extraordinary things this week. Quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi mentioned Hill has gotten out of the pocket and made difficult throws across his body. If Hill continues to develop, his ability on the move could be something that differentiates him and provides him with a skill to lean on.
“Every great quarterback has to have a way of making a play when the play call isn’t perfect,” Lombardi said. “Someone’s not open right away, or the pressure gets to you, and you have certain guys like Tom Brady or Drew, they do it by finding these creative throws or getting the ball out so quick and having that sixth sense of where to go with the ball. Other guys get away from the rush, and they get outside the pocket, and they create.
“You see Aaron Rodgers and those kind of guys make plays that way. Just the ability to avoid the rush. The guy runs a sub-4.5 40, and he’s strong — he might be the strongest guy on the team.”
The strongest guy on the team? Seriously?
“Certainly pound for pound. He might be the strongest squatter,” Lombardi said. “The guy is a freak athlete. I’ve never seen anyone like him at this position.”
That sounds like a big statement, but it’s fairly obvious when you think about it. How many quarterbacks can make plays on special teams? Hill has rare traits for the position. The question is whether he can develop everything else and run the offense.
While he's off to a good start, the answer is still far off. Hill’s only really been on the job for three days.