METAIRIE, La. — The legend of Taysom Hill just keeps growing in New Orleans.
Now it’s time to find out if he can live up to it.
“I was kind of 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. So these last [two weeks of OTA practices] have been a ton of fun,” said the second-year quarterback, who managed to create an enormous amount of buzz last fall — even though he barely even saw the practice field as the Saints’ third-stringer.
For those who might have missed it, here’s how this unique and surprising tall tale started:
Hill, an undrafted dual-threat quarterback out of BYU, had an impressive preseason with the Green Bay Packers in 2017. But the Packers let him go when they cut their roster to 53 players in September, and the Saints quickly snatched him off the waiver wire.
Flash forward to December, when two eye-opening things happened.
First, Hill started playing on special teams — and actually thriving in kick coverage — after the Saints found a rare way to use his skill set as a big, athletic, 6-foot-2, 221-pounder.
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Then the Fox broadcast team revealed that Saints coach Sean Payton was absolutely enamored with Hill’s potential, with Payton even going so far as to suggest in their production meetings that Drew Brees’ heir “is in the building.”
Of course, Payton tried to walk those comments back a little bit. How could the Saints be convinced Hill is their next starting quarterback when he hadn’t really even practiced running their offense yet (only doing a little work with the scout teams last season)?
But make no mistake, the Saints’ coaching staff is extremely excited about Hill’s potential, as quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi continued to demonstrate in comments made to the New Orleans Advocate during the first week of OTAs.
“The guy is a freak athlete. I’ve never seen anyone like him at this position,” said Lombardi, who said Hill “might be the strongest guy on the team” — at least “pound for pound.”
“He might be the strongest squatter,” Lombardi said of Hill’s weight-room prowess.
Lombardi also tried to tone down the hype a little bit when I followed up with him a few days ago. But he didn’t shy away from the fact Hill has some athletic traits that are rare for the position, including his blazing 40-yard dash time of 4.44 seconds at his pro day.
That helped Hill run for 2,815 yards and 32 touchdowns in college, to go with his 6,929 passing yards and 43 TD passes. He also threw for two touchdowns and ran for another during the Packers’ preseason last year.
“You just don’t see guys that are as strong and as fast as him very often. … Oftentimes those guys are playing safety or running back or receiver,” Lombardi said. “A guy that can run like that obviously causes problems for a defense, in a different way than maybe a Drew Brees does.
“So he has traits that can help him be successful. And obviously his job and our job is to help him mold those traits into a guy that can effectively play the position.”
Lombardi also mentioned to The Advocate that one of the strengths Hill has shown so far in practice is the ability to make throws down the field while on the move outside the pocket.
“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.”
Only two of the Saints’ OTA practices have been open to the media so far. But Hill has turned heads on a couple of plays — one when he took off running down the field and one when he made a strong throw across his body.
“He looks good,” Payton said. “We like where he’s at. He’s grinding, working hard. You guys saw maybe a play where when he does get outside the pocket, he can run — I mean real fast. So that presents a new challenge for the defense.”
New Orleans found a way to use Taysom Hill’s skill set as a big, athletic, 6-foot-2, 221-pounder beyond playing quarterback. Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports
Hill, now 27 after a five-year college career and a two-year Mormon mission, said it has been “big” for him to finally start translating everything he learned last season onto the field.
He has continued to do a little bit of work on special teams, but the plan is for him to spend more of his time on his primary job — where he is trying to earn the backup role in a competition with newly signed veteran Tom Savage and undrafted rookie J.T. Barrett.
Savage, a former starter for the Houston Texans, doesn’t have the same fanfare around him as Hill right now. But he has significantly more experience as the two are splitting time with the No. 2 offense.
“He throws the football really well. He throws a pretty ball — and accurate,” said Lombardi, who noted that Savage has been working on some fundamental things like changing his footwork to fit the Saints’ preferred drops.
A trio of newcomers behind Brees is a big departure for the Saints from years past, when they had established veterans such as Luke McCown or Chase Daniel in the backup role.
But Hill clearly learned one thing from Daniel last season. Hill has been racing Brees from drill to drill during OTA practices, fighting to be the first guy to step on a certain marker — continuing a heated competition that Brees and Daniel used to have among many others on a daily basis.
“Usually you’ve got to fight for body position a little bit to touch the [marker],” said Brees, who has also learned to appreciate Hill’s unique athletic makeup.
“He’s a little bit bigger and stronger than who we’ve normally had around here,” Brees said. “So I’ve got my work cut out for me now.”