I remember talking to Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner in Mankato last summer as Shaun Hill walked past. Hill hadn’t been with the Vikings since 2005 and looked a little older in the face and a little more settled in the midsection since his first stint with the Vikings in 2002 to 2005.
The question went something like, “What do you like about this guy?” Turner spent the next few minutes explaining, in general, how being a successful NFL backup quarterback takes a person who is “as in tune with his deficiencies as he is with his strengths.”
Well, hang on, folks. We’re about to see every wart the 36-year-old Hill has in his arsenal now that starter Teddy Bridgewater suffered what is expected to be a season-ending knee injury in Tuesday’s practice. But, going back to that conversation with Turner, we’ll try to chisel out a sliver of a ledge upon which you can clutch your fingertips to in hopes that a potential Super Bowl season didn’t just swirl down a 6-10 toilet.
Turner compared Hill’s temperament, decision-making ability and familiarity with this offense to that of other backups he’s had who were able to hold down the fort without Dan Marino’s arm and Steve Young’s legs.
“We had a guy with the Rams [in the 1980s], Mark Herrmann,” Turner said. “He was the perfect guy. … You couldn’t get him excited. He knew the offense. When he went into the game, he wasn’t trying to win the game. He was trying to make sure we continued moving the ball.
“We were playing the Raiders. Jim Everett got knocked out, and Mark goes in and completes seven straight and we go down and score. It’s guys who can play within the system and are really good decision-makers that can find ways to win.”
Yeah, I know there’s a rather large hole in this Purple pep talk. Hill isn’t stepping in for a series. He’s stepping in for a season, assuming he can stay healthy that long.
But Hill isn’t stepping into quicksand in Cleveland. He’s stepping onto the sound base of a run-oriented, defensive-minded defending division champion.
“This,” coach Mike Zimmer said, “isn’t about a one-man deal. We have a real good team. We have a good defensive team. Our offensive line is much better. We have good receivers. We have maybe the best running back in the NFL.”
Hill joined the Vikings as an undrafted rookie in 2002. He was here only because Mike Tice had a soft spot for fellow Maryland Terrapins. Hill lasted four seasons with Tice and never threw a pass. He played in only one game, taking a knee twice at the end of the 2005 season finale. Tice and Hill were gone after the season.
Hill went on to play in San Francisco, Detroit and St. Louis. He’s 16-18 as a starter with a .620 completion percentage, 8,053 yards, 49 touchdowns, 30 interceptions and an 85.2 passer rating.
The Vikings sure hope Hill doesn’t repeat what happened in 2014. Injuries forced him into the starting lineup at the start of the year. Then he was injured in the Rams’ 34-6 season-opening loss to the visiting Vikings and missed the next two months.
The Vikings, however, wouldn’t mind what happened when he returned. Facing the Broncos, Hill completed 20 of 29 passes for 220 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 102.7 passer rating.
They also wouldn’t mind seeing some of the production he had when he last started games in Turner’s offense. It was 2007 in San Francisco. Turner was the offensive coordinator.
Hill started two games, going 2-0 while completing 68.4 percent of his passes with five touchdowns, one interception and a 101.3 passer rating.
The backup also has looked good this preseason. He appears to know his arm strength limitation and overcomes it with quick reads and anticipation. With time to throw in his start at Seattle, he looked in full command and made winning throws.
I asked Zimmer if the Vikings’ confidence in Hill was wavering before that start in Seattle. After all, there were reports the team made an offer to Nick Foles.
“I don’t think so,” Zimmer said. “No, I wasn’t really wavering.”
Yeah, the Vikings are likely in deep trouble. But there is enough talent around Hill to at least wait and see.
After all, the last time we all assumed something about the Vikings, they missed a 27-yard game-winning field goal. So we’re not always right in our Purple assumptions.