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Shaun Hill's Story Is Really Amazing
by Michael Willis
This isnít an unfamiliar situation for Shaun Hill.
For anyone else, this story makes for a movie tagline: ďAn undrafted, undervalued quarterback has to replace a first-round franchise quarterback on short notice. This is how he led a nation.Ē
The odds of an undrafted QB replacing a first-rounder QB happening once is astronomically small, but for Shaun Hill replacing Sam Bradford after a torn ACL, this is the third time heís been asked to do it over his ten-year career.
Hill wasnít wanted coming out of high school. He received a scholarship offer from Pittsburgh State University ó for the punting position, not as a quarterback. Hill opted for the path of most resistance, however, and spent two years at a junior college (beating out five other quarterbacks in the process) becoming an All-American before being picked up by Maryland.
Even with the Terps, Hill had to earn his job. Calvin McCall started his short-lived career ahead of Hill until poor play resulted in Hill outshining him. Everyone remembers his senior year, though, where the Terps managed to get to the 2001 Orange Bowl against Florida and the #11 national ranking in Ralph Friedgenís first year as head coach. He would finish with over 3,000 yards passing during his time at Maryland and be forever looked upon favorably in the eyes of most Terrapins. But Hillís career at Maryland was just a blip of success a long time ago. He didnít spent 4 years forging a legacy, he was a replacement QB who got a starting gig.
No one wanted Hill when he left college. Questionable arm strength, not enough statistically and low upside saw Hill not even sniff the NFL draft. Still, he managed to catch on with the Vikings as a practice guy. In 2004, the amount of Minnesota sports websites are somewhat scant, so articles on Shaun Hill as a rookie are hard to find. Still, in all itís glory, an About.com preview of the Vikings QB situation in 2004, where Hill backed up then-superstar Daunte Culpepper and Gus stinkiní Frerotte:
Shaun Hill is penciled in at No. 3, but he doesnít possess much upside, so Iím not sure the Vikings wouldnít be better off filling this spot with a prospect with a little more potential for development. Ė About.com
Hill took two knees for the Vikings, but when Daunte Culpepper got hurt in 2005 he was, in fact, a second-string backup to Brad Johnson. Still, Hill knew he wasnít going to get his shot at playing on this Vikings roster, so he again opted for the tough route.
If you dig back far enough, youíll see that Shaun Hill spent the 2003 season starring for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe (after the Vikings let him hang out on the roster) after David Rivers (you might remember him as Michael Vickís backup) tore his knee up before the season began. That allowed Hill to step up and get noticed by the San Francisco ***** for his stellar play in Europe (over 3,000 yards passing). But even in Europe, the knock on Hill was his inability to make deep throws, as he often underthrew Matt Hatchette, another NFL retread receiver. Read that as ďNot NFL material.Ē
When San Francisco picked up Hill in 2007 he was a last-case scenario guy. Mike Nolan and the ***** were still hoping their first round pick Alex Smith was going to pan out after his monstrosity of a rookie season and his awful sophomore campaign. Even if he went down, they had one of the best ďstay out of the way so I donít get cutĒ players ever ó 35-year old Trent Dilfer ó waiting in docking bay. And just to be extra sure Shaun Hill didnít see the field, San Francisco signed 35-year old bust and free agent Chris Weinke to back up Dilfer.
Of course Alex Smith dinged up his shoulder and was deemed out for the season a few games into the year, and of course Trent Dilfer suffered a concussion a few games into his replacement stint, paving the way for Shaun Hill. Both Dilfer and Smith ended their seasons with the two worst passer-ratings in the NFL, so Hill didnít have to do much to look good. Instead, he looked great in his first game:
San Franciscoís league-worst offense and passing game have been so pathetic that Hillís effort against Minnesota produced the clubís best passer rating of the season: 106.9, or nearly twice as good as the season numbers for Smith (57.2) or Dilfer (55.1).
Hill is playing with a bandage on the dislocated index finger of his throwing hand, which swells up after practices and games. Ė KSL.com
Hill ended up winning two of San Franciscoís five games that season in only two starts (including one against playoff-bound Tampa Bay, proving his worth for them and creating a QB controversy. Former Terp Vernon Davis even chimed in back in 2007 on the Alex Smith-Shaun Hill controversy:
I think there should be a competition. Got to have a competition. Canít have the No. 1 guy sit there feeling comfortable. Guys have confidence in Shaun. I like the way he lets the ball go. He throws it where youíre going to be.
Nothing is ever that easy for Hill, however, and San Francisco awarded the starting gig to sixth round draft pick J.T. OíSullivan in the 2008 preseason. Nolan and offensive coordinator Mike Martz decided OíSullivan beat out both Alex Smith and Hill in the QB competition, but the competition was fixed. Per a Michael Silver column for Yahoo! in 2009, regarding Nolanís firing and the dysfunction of the Niners:
With Martz orchestrating what amounted to a fixed quarterback competition that predictably swung in favor of OíSullivan, a journeyman whose stint as a backup with the Detroit Lions made him the only candidate familiar with Martzís system, Nolan appeared indecisive and disingenuous in his public comments. Hill, another career backup who signed a two-year contract with the team after performing well in the final two games of last season, was held out of training camp practices with what Nolan and Martz claimed was a tired arm; sources close to Hill say the assertion was totally fictional.
OíSullivan was chosen because he ran Martz offense in Detroit, so Nolan kept relying on him for eight games before deciding that 2-6 was unacceptable. The ***** also thought that was unacceptable, and fired Nolan in favor of a pants-less Mike Singletary, who finally gave Shaun Hill the starting job again. Hill led his team to a 5-3 record and threw for 13 TDs and 2046 yards over his eight starts, yet again outshining the person he was backing up.
In 2009, Hill finally looked like he had earned that coveted starting gig. Alex Smith was still breathing down his neck given how much money he was being paid, but Mike Singletary went with his guy in Hill. During six full games, Hill led the Niners to a 3-3 record, throwing 5 touchdowns to 2 interceptions and 943 yards. His lackluster performance against the Houston Texans in Week 7 (under 40% completion rate), however, saw his stint with the Niners come to an end when Alex Smith took over officially.
A trade with the Detroit Lions in the offseason (for a future seventh-round pick) had him in a familiar situation: backing up a first-round, first overall quarterback ó Matt Stafford ó with little chance of starting. But by now we all know Staffordís injury woes, and Shaun Hill got his chance to go at it yet again just a few weeks into the 2010 season. Ten starts, three wins, 2,686 yards passing and 16 touchdowns later Hill broke his arm and was replaced by Drew Stanton for the Lions. He spent the next few seasons playing the backup role to Stafford, making only one tangible appearance in a comeback near-victory against Tennessee in 2012.
Not that thatís a bad career by any means, but it seemed like Hillís starting days had run their course by now. Heíd gotten starting chances and lost them by unfortunate circumstances (bad teams, coaches trying to save their jobs, first rounders breathing down his neck, poor play), so when St. Louis signed him this offseason, the expectations were low. Donít get hurt and stay out of the way, much the same as Trent Dilfer and Gus Frerotte back in Minnesota.
Either Hill is a savant at anticipating positive scenarios for himself, or heís incredibly lucky. Sam Bradford, another first round, first overall pick, went down for the St. Louis Rams over the weekend, pushing none other than Shaun Hill to the forefront once again. Oddly enough, the talk isnít even about whether or not Hill can be a stop-gap; there are legitimate arguments to be made that Hill is as good as or better than the starter heís replacing.
Whatís past is prologue, as the say.
Because Hill is a Terp, his story is significant in this realm of the internet and gives pride to an alumni base that remembers his favorable performances at Maryland. But because Hill is an undrafted ten-year NFL player who just got another starting gig after taking over a spot reserved by a former first round franchise QB, his story is remarkable and impressive everywhere. A story about not giving up on your dreams and perseverance.
Hill is 34 now, and as soon as the Rams get the chance at picking up another young quarterback, theyíre going to go for it. The minute Hill got that job the question wasnít ďHow well can he perform?Ē but ďWho will replace Hill this year?Ē Itís a story Hillís heard before. Maybe this time heíll get a full season to show his worth, or maybe heíll get yanked in favor of a young player if the playoffs are out of reach. Expect more of the same from him, either way. Heís been consistent his whole career.
This is not anything new, itís not anything different. I keep the same mindset Iíve always had. Iíve always gone into every week as a backup as if I was going to play. Thatís the only way I know how to do it. - Shaun Hill
Re: Shaun Hill's Story Is Really AmazingWhatís past is prologue, as the say.
Sure hope Hill will look as good as the Rams starting QB by the end of the season as he does now.
Interesting story BTW.
Re: Shaun Hill's Story Is Really Amazing
He's been consistent his whole career. Let's hope he can play the full 16 games without injury.
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Re: Shaun Hill's Story Is Really Amazing
I'm not going to call him Shaun Hill.
I'm going to call him Earl Morral.
Johnny U goes out - Morral takes the Colts to a 13-1 record before losing to the Jets in the Super Bowl.
Bob Griese goes out - Morral goes on a tear winning 11 games in a row, getting them to the Super Bowl.
I think Hill was brought in specifically for this - he was the most proven backup available, and he was chosen over Sanchez.
So I'm pissed Bradford is out, but we've got a steady hand behind him, and a few winnable games early to get Hill into the job.
The real question now is can Hill stay healthy, and if Davis is really worth keeping around.
Re: Shaun Hill's Story Is Really Amazing
One of the better articles I have read about anything Rams-related in quite a while.
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