NEW ORLEANS – Taysom Hill said he had never made a tackle in a high school or college game before he made two of them in his NFL debut on Sunday in kickoff coverage. He also flirted with one or two blocked punts.
“I thought it was outstanding,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, who decided to try out the 6-foot-2, 221-pounder in the unfamiliar role this week because of his combination of size and athleticism, some injuries that created a special-teams void and Hill’s eagerness to get on the field in any capacity.
Some teammates were giddy on the field as they celebrated Hill’s first tackle -- and Payton had a wide grin on his face as he high-fived him coming off the field.
What made Hill’s day even more fascinating, though, is that Fox broadcasters Troy Aikman and Joe Buck revealed that Payton has much, much bigger plans in store for the former BYU standout, who spent this summer with the Green Bay Packers before New Orleans claimed him off waivers in Week 1.
According to Aikman and Buck, Payton has told them in production meetings over the past three weeks that he envisions Hill as the future replacement for 38-year-old quarterback Drew Brees.
Buck said Payton’s exact words were that Brees’ heir is “in the building.”
“He not only likes Taysom Hill, he loves Taysom Hill. And their future quarterback is Taysom Hill,” Aikman said. “We’ve had [Saints games] in two of the past three weeks, and in our production meetings we’ve spent more time talking about Taysom Hill than anybody else on this roster. Sean Payton absolutely loves him. And this week when he said he was gonna be on special teams, I couldn’t believe it.”
Those are some pretty startling words for a relatively unknown quarterback who has spent the entire season in the shadows. But suddenly, next year’s OTAs just got a lot more interesting.
“Sean and I haven’t talked specifically about that, but I will tell you that’s my mindset,” Hill told ESPN’s Ian O’Connor about the “QB of the future” talk. “My mindset is to come in and compete. I want to be the next guy. We’ll see what happens in the future, but I’m certainly going to do my best to be ready when the opportunity comes.”
UPDATED: Payton toned down the rhetoric a bit when asked about Aikman and Buck's comments on Monday, praising Hill without guaranteeing him anything down the road.
"What I said was, ‘This player, as a special-teams player, I think is gonna do very well. And we like the prospect as a quarterback,'" Payton said. "I think we saw enough on tape to claim him and put him on our active roster. But anything we do with regards to where we’re going forward is certainly something that’s gonna be won and lost on the field. But I think he’s athletic, I think he did a good job yesterday, specially bringing some juice to the special teams. He can run, he’s got size. That was refreshing. ...
"I think there’s a personality he has that I think brings a little energy, and I felt it in our kicking game yesterday."
Hill is older than most rookies -- he's 27 -- because he went on a Mormon mission and had a medical redshirt year during a college career that was plagued by injuries. Four of his five seasons ended early with knee, leg, foot or elbow injuries. But the dual-threat passer/runner still finished his college career with 6,929 passing yards, 43 passing touchdowns, 2,815 rushing yards and 32 rushing TDs.
Then in Green Bay, he turned heads during the preseason. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns and ran 10 times for 71 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown.
“You just don’t want to be lining up next to him on kick coverage because you’re gonna look slow if you don’t get going,” Payton said. “This is a guy that’s 6-2, 235 and runs a 4.42. That’s pretty good. I think it’s probably the fastest quarterback time in the last 20 years coming out of the combine, if my memory holds it. This guy was explosive, and it just made sense. He plays with a passion. We saw it during the practice week, and it just came up in the game.”
Actually, Hill is listed at 221 pounds, and he reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds at his pro day after not being invited to the combine (a handful of QBs have run faster than that at the combine over the past decade, including Robert Griffin III’s 4.41 seconds).
But Payton’s exaggerated numbers further help to illustrate how highly he must think of Hill.
Hill told a group of reporters after Sunday’s game that everyone was kind of laughing at him when he arrived this week to a Wednesday morning team meeting and was informed that he’d be playing special teams.
"I didn't really know what to expect," Hill said. "I was kind of getting joked on during the week because I was going through tackling drills with some of our defensive coaches because I never tackled before. But I had a good time."
Payton joked that Hill’s biggest problem was that he stayed with the QB group out of habit Sunday afternoon when the specialists left to take the field.
"I love it. Taysom Hill, man, what a stud," Brees said. "I was really happy for him. You always say, the more you can do, right? And his attitude and just embracing the opportunity just to get on the field and help the team in whatever way he could. He’s a big, strong, talented guy. But, you know, it’s not every day you say, ‘Hey, quarterback who’s never played special teams ever, we’re gonna have you playing in an NFL game running down on kickoffs and rushing punts and tackling people.’”