Saints' Taysom Hill savors QB reps before resuming Swiss Army knife role

METAIRIE, La. -- What a week this has been for the New Orleans SaintsTaysom Hill.

He became a father for the first time. He had his 30th birthday. And he gets to spend every day on the practice field focusing on his favorite position: quarterback.

Come Sept. 13, Hill will go back to his day job as one of the NFL’s more fascinating playmakers. When the Saints kick off their season against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he'll pick up where he left off in January’s overtime playoff loss to the Minnesota Vikings -- when he had the best game of his NFL career with a 50-yard pass, four runs for 50 yards and two catches for 25 yards and a touchdown.

But before the 6-foot-2, 221-pound Swiss Army knife returns to being a weapon for starting quarterback Drew Brees, Hill is trying to take advantage of every snap he gets in this abbreviated offseason to prove he can really become Brees’ heir one day.

“Right now is kind of a special time for me, where I can hone in, really learn from Drew on the field, really learn from the coaches, be coached hard. And it is a really fun time for me to do that,” Hill said. “It’s a little disappointing not having preseason games for a guy like me, because it really is an opportunity to make sure that I’m getting live, game-time reps. But I think for now, the focus is on treating every practice rep I get like it’s a game situation.”

Hill has never wavered from his belief that he can be a starting NFL quarterback -- even though he has just 15 career passing attempts on his résumé.

And while some people outside of the Saints’ building remain skeptical, coach Sean Payton is right there with Hill, having spent the past couple years telling people both publicly and privately that he thinks Hill could wind up running his offense after the 41-year-old Brees retires.

Last year, Payton even compared Hill to Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young as a late bloomer who eventually found the right situation to show off his talents.

The Saints backed up that confidence by signing Hill to a two-year, $21 million contract as a restricted free agent this offseason. But it’s a unique dynamic in New Orleans, where the Saints value Hill so much in his vital QB/RB/TE/WR/special-teams role that he doesn’t serve as their full-time backup.

Last season, Teddy Bridgewater filled in when Brees missed five games with a thumb injury (while Hill wound up catching seven TD passes, including the playoffs). This season, Jameis Winston could potentially serve in that No. 2 QB role -- though Payton hasn’t laid out any specific roles for them yet.

Both Hill and Winston have been a work in progress through the first two weeks of training-camp practices open to the media. Both put together some nice stretches over the past two days, in particular. But both have battled inconsistency, including a windy day earlier this week when they each threw two interceptions in full-team drills.

Hill was a solid 5-of-7 passing during Friday’s scrimmagelike practice, which involved live tackling for the first time in camp. However, both of his drives ended short of the goal line.

Hill’s most impressive moment of camp came a few days ago during an 11-on-11 red zone drill, when he used his eyes to draw a safety closer to tight end Tommy Stevens, then fired a perfect pass to wide-open rookie tight end Adam Trautman coming across the back of the end zone.

Unfortunately, his lowest moment came earlier during that same practice, when Hill looked so rusty after missing two days for the birth of his son, Beau, that Payton joked with Hill that it looked as though he was the one who delivered the baby.

But Payton insisted that Hill has “a real good grasp as to what we’re doing offensively” heading into his fourth season. And quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi said he has noticed a growing confidence and better timing.

Hill said his biggest focus this summer has been “making sure that I go through my reads quickly.”

“I would say the more comfortable I get inside the offense, the better I have played,” said Hill, whose college career as a dual-threat star at BYU was derailed by injuries before he began his NFL career as an undrafted rookie with the Green Bay Packers in 2017.

“When I study Drew, [I see] his ability to get a playcall, get up to the line of scrimmage, recognize what the defense is trying to do and then assess where and how we’re going to attack that defense with the play that we have called. So for me it’s making sure I speed that process up, making sure I’m not late with my decision-making, my throws,” Hill said. “And then as a quarterback, I don’t think you can ever stop working on accuracy, your footwork, getting through your progression. So my main focus has really been the mental side of everything and trying to expedite that process.”

Hill’s running ability remains among his greatest assets. So we would likely see more designed runs and more scrambles in a live-game setting if the game plan were ever specifically catered to his abilities.

More than anything, Payton and teammates have always raved about the way Hill creates a “spark” no matter what position he is playing.

When asked what he thinks as a defensive back when Hill comes onto the field, Saints safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson said, “Get ready to get physical.”

“Because you know that guy’s tough, he’s an athlete, he’s an ultimate competitor. That’s a guy that really gets the team going with how he plays,” said Gardner-Johnson, who said he himself gleans inspiration from Hill’s playing style. “You could see last year against Minnesota, we were down and he made a couple of big plays and sparked the whole team and got everybody going.

“He steps on that field, gives it his all, something he loves. So you gotta go and match it.”