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If it is indeed Taysom Hill who trots into the Saints huddle at the start of their game against the Falcons on Sunday, this will serve as his first audition to be the successor to Drew Brees as early as next season.
And this is what it would mean, this is why Sean Payton would turn to his modern-day Jim Thorpe over Jameis Winston:
“I just think he trusts him more than he trusts the other guy,” CBS Sports’ Rich Gannon told Serby Says.
In Taysom Hill former Dolphins-Jets-Saints special teams coaching legend Mike Westhoff trusts.
“I found him, that was my guy, I’m taking all the credit, ’cause I got him,” Westhoff told Serby Says, and chuckled. “He never dressed a game there until I got there.”
Payton summoned Westhoff to fix his special teams during the 2017 season, and Westhoff took one look at Hill and reminded everyone that he had had success with Dolphins backup quarterback Jim Jensen.
“Dress him,” Westhoff told Payton after one practice. “You’re gonna be shocked.”
Everyone except Westhoff would be.
“Opening play, we kick off,” Westhoff recalled. “He runs down the field, runs between their two best blockers and tackles the guy on the 15-yard line. Toward the end of the game, he rushes the punter, he’s gonna block the punt, the kid has to pull down, he drops the ball, we recover it, we score the winning touchdown, he gets the game ball.
“The rest was history.”
Payton, the latest in an endless line of football coaches who guard quarterback secrets as if they were launch instructions for a ballistic missile, was in no hurry on Friday to divulge his plan with the Falcons eavesdropping on his every word.
Of course, with the Falcons back on the schedule in two weeks, no one should be surprised if the devious Payton turns to Winston should Hill struggle, or is injured.
“I think they’ll be rolling Winston in and out of there, and have different packages. … I believe that you’ll see both quarterbacks playing — but I could be wrong,” Westhoff said.
“I know Sean, when I used to talk to him, always talked to me about some day maybe giving Taysom Hill a chance to be Steve Young.”
For now, it appears that the Harvard education learning under Brees that Winston sought when he signed his one-year, $1.1 million deal with the Saints was more freshman orientation compared with Hill’s Master’s degree in his fourth season at Cajun Harvard.
“I thought this was a perfect place for him if his mentality was right, he said he wanted to sit behind two masterminds and learn,” former Jets receiver and six-time Pro Bowler — and founder of the “I Am Athlete” podcast and House of Athlete brand — Brandon Marshall told Serby Says. “And I think that’s exactly what he needed to do, ’cause he has the skill set to be phenomenal in the NFL. But the decision-making and learning how to be a pro day in and day out is where he needed growth.”
Apparently, Hill’s 20 career passes (including playoffs) trumped Winston’s 30 interceptions last season.
“I’m not surprised, because he’s been in all those quarterback meetings,” Gannon said. “He’s smart, instinctive, he’s athletic, he’s become a more accurate thrower of the ball, I think, because he’s been in the system now, he understands the concepts, the protections, and those type of things.
“I think they can do more with him in terms of innovation and design, those type of things. His ability to make some plays with his feet, his ability to extend plays.
“And the other thing is the ball security issues with Jameis.”
Hill’s regular-season career stats: 10-for-18, 205 yards, one INT passing; 98-538, four TDs rushing; 28-312, seven TDs receiving.
With Brees on IR (fractured ribs, collapsed lung), Hill won’t get a chance to catch a pass unless Winston gets in the game.
Hill won’t be his usual special teams threat, but he will keep Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich on high alert for read options/RPOs.
“He’s super-competitive. … He has the skill set to do anything on the field outside of freakin’ offensive line,” Marshall said. “I don’t think we’ve seen enough to say that he could be a guy that can come in and lead your offense [for] 60-70 plays. But he was more than capable, I mean hell, he sat behind Drew Brees for years, he’s been in those meetings, Sean Payton’s one of the most brilliant offensive minds in football. … He has the skill set to do it. Now if he has the mindset decision-making, that’s yet to be determined.”
Hill is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. He squats 625 pounds.
“If you were to have a race on the New Orleans Saints, and you’d say, OK, let’s get the fastest three guys and see who the fastest player on the Saints is,” Westhoff said. “Trust me, he’s one of those three in that race.”
Westhoff went on: “He can throw. Not only throw a little bit, he can really throw,” Westhoff said. “I got in a ton of s–t in Baltimore for doing a radio thing about a year ago, where they were asking me to compare him to [Lamar] Jackson. And I said, ‘Well, I think Jackson’s such an incredible athlete.’ I said, ‘But he can’t throw as good as Taysom Hill.’ ”
Hill, long before he became a 26-year-old undrafted free agent out of BYU, played quarterback for Highland Hills HS coach Gino Mariani in Pocatello, Idaho.
“I coached high school 15 years prior to getting him, and he was something I had never seen,” Mariani said by phone. “Every time he stepped on the field, he was the best player, hands down.”
Hill was the punter and kicker as well. He returned kicks in big moments. He played some linebacker and safety.
“His first play his senior year at quarterback, he dropped back to pass, and he didn’t see anything he liked, and he took off and ran 87 yards for a touchdown,” Mariani said. “He’s just one of those players, he rises to the occasion.”
Hill overcame a series of devastating injuries at BYU — as well as the death of his brother Dexter, who succumbed to an opiate addiction in 2016 at 31.
“I think every day that he steps on the field with that No. 7 … He was 3 here, he was 4 at BYU, he changed to 7 after his brother died. That’s what his brother’s college number was to kind of honor his brother and play for him,” Mariani said.
Westhoff, naturally, will be rooting for Taysom Hill.
“I love the kid,” Westhoff said.
So does Payton, who signed Hill to a two-year, $21 million extension in the spring. Asked if he thinks Hill can handle quarterback, Westhoff said: “Absolutely, I think he can.
Can he be the successor to Brees?
“That’s a good question, and I don’t know enough of that,” Westhoff said. “A guy like this puts a lot at risk because of how he runs the ball, so you throw injury into the equation. That’s a factor. Drew doesn’t have that in the equation.”
Come Sunday, it could be 7 Up.