Injury hands Shaun Hill high hopes for Minnesota Vikings

By Howard Balzer, The Sports Xchange  |  Aug. 31, 2016 at 10:47 AM
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Forgive Shaun Hill if he is feeling a bit of deja vu.

It was only two years ago that Hill was getting ready for his first season in St. Louis as the backup to quarterback Sam Bradford, who had suffered a torn ACL during the previous season.

But Bradford had seemingly come back strong and Hill was preparing for the role he has had for his entire 15-year career: backup quarterback. That all changed when Bradford suffered another torn ACL at Cleveland on Aug. 23, thrusting Hill into the starting job.

It didn't last long.

Hill suffered a quad injury in the season opener, coincidentally against the Minnesota Vikings. It wasn't expected to sideline him long, but when Austin Davis began playing well, Hill stayed on the bench. That is, until Davis started struggling and Hill returned to start the final seven games of the season.

Hill stands for the National Anthem before a game against the Arizona Cardinals on December 11, 2014. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
He played like he normally does, completing 63.3 percent of his passes with a passer rating of 83.9. That's consistent if not spectacular, like his career in which he's completed 62.0 percent of his passes with a rating of 85.2. His record was 3-5 with the Rams that season. Overall, in all those 14 seasons, he's started 34 games with a record of 16-18.

Now, after returning last year to play for the team that first signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2002, his chance is coming again.

When Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a dislocated knee and torn ACL in practice Tuesday, there was the low-key Hill ready to take control again; knowing that all anyone would be talking about is who the team should sign to replace him as the starter.

As if that's easily accomplished. There is no adjustment more difficult in the NFL than being a quarterback and coming to a team in September. Just ask Matt Cassel. He was acquired by the Dallas Cowboys last year on Sept. 21 and was never comfortable when he ended having to play instead of an injured Tony Romo. The Cowboys were 1-6 in Cassel's starts in 2015.

The Vikings' best chance to win is with Hill, who knows coordinator Norv Turner's system (he played previously for Turner in San Francisco) and will be asked to simply run the offense and not make mistakes.

Hill (13) hands off to RB Glen Coffee (29) against the Rams on October 4, 2009. The 49ers defeated the Rams 35-0. UPI/Terry Schmitt
Consider this: Last season with Bridgewater at quarterback, the Vikings were 11-5 and had 10 games in which they totaled less than 200 yards passing. In those games, they were 8-2. Their average passing yards in the eight victories was a stunning 142.1.

Possible names were being bandied about within moments of Bridgewater's injury were those on rosters like Cleveland's Josh McCown, Denver's Mark Sanchez, even Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon or San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and his $11.9 million salary; or some that haven't been with a team during this league year: Tarvaris Jackson, who played for the Vikings from 2006-1010; Matt Flynn, Michael Vick, T.J. Yates (suffered a torn ACL last season) and Jimmy Clausen.

Any of those names excite you? Didn't think so.

That's one reason why Dallas is still deciding who to sign to bring in behind Dak Prescott and Jameill Showers until Tony Romo recovers from the broken bone in his back (if he does).

The Vikings do need another quarterback because Hill's current backup is rookie undrafted free agent Joel Stave.

But the experienced group of backups currently with teams likely won't be available because the teams they are on have them for an obvious reason: to be available if their starter goes down.

And for those that don't believe Hill can do the job for the Vikings for an extended period of time, if that is the case, then the Vikings have to be questioned for having him on the roster in the first place. The reality is he is there for just this opportunity.

Will Turner's confidence be borne out?

Only time will tell. But at this point, it's their only hope.

Howard Balzer is in his 40th year covering the National Football League and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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