Saints’ Hill: Return to utility role ‘makes perfect sense’

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Taysom Hill is giving the New Orleans Saints’ new training regimen the benefit of the doubt.

The former BYU quarterback doesn’t deny his disappointment at no longer being on the QB track with his NFL club. But Hill says he sees wisdom in the Saints’ decision to focus on the more physical end.

“At first I was a little surprised at how it was communicated,” Hill said after practice on Tuesday. “But as we go along, as I’ve had other conversations, I think it makes perfect sense.”

“I’m pretty reasonable,” Hill added. “That’s not necessarily what I want; it’s what’s best for the team — and I’m good with that.

Hill no longer practices in a red jersey reserved for quarterbacks, which should not be touched during practice. He now wears a white or black No. 7 jersey, as well as a soft-shell helmet cover that the NFL has asked linemen, linebackers and tight ends to wear during training camp to reduce the exposure to concussions.

There was a time when former Saints coach Sean Payton drew comparisons between the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Hill and another former BYU QB, Hall of Famer Steve Young. Such comments put Hill in the discussion to take over from Drew Brees, who retired after the 2020 season.

Hill, who turns 32 this month, had the chance to compete with Jameis Winston for the starting position in the 2021 pre-season. Following Winston’s victory, Hill returned to his utility role during the most of last season – even after Winston’s season-ending knee injury in Week 8. It wasn’t until the Saints lost four games in a row to Trevor Siemian at the start that Payton named Hill as leaving with six games remaining.

Despite suffering a painful foot (plantar fascia) injury and missing a game due to a positive COVID-19 test, Hill went 4-1, improving his career record to 7-2 .

But this offseason, New Orleans signed Winston to a two-year extension and added veteran Andy Dalton as a replacement.

In a phone call this spring, the Saints informed Hill — who has a sturdy build and runs well — that they wanted him to focus on his previous role as a utility player who not only ran QB runs designed , but also lines up tight end or receiver, and plays on special teams.

“He reacted incredibly well,” Allen said. “He’s a team guy. He’s going to do whatever the team wants him to do for us to be successful.

In position group meetings, Hill is no longer with the QBs, but with the tight ends. The same goes for individual drills, which Hill admits he needed to refine how he lines up in a three-point position and executes blocks.

“I’m still very raw in a lot of this stuff,” Hill said.

Meanwhile, Hill’s transition has been slowed by injuries. His recovery from surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury at the end of the season prevented him from participating in off-season training. He returned for training camp, only to be sidelined by a misplaced rib. He’s training again, but with a custom-made rib guard.

But Allen noted that, for practical reasons, there would be no major change in Hill’s use in later seasons.

“I feel like there’s a big discussion on Taysom Hill,” Allen said. “It’s not the primary quarterback role, but we’re still going to see him in a lot of those positions we’ve played him in throughout his time here.”

Hill’s best reception of the season came in 2019: 19 catches for 234 yards.

As a rusher, Hill averaged 5.4 yards per carry during his career, gaining 1,183 yards on 221 carries since 2018. Last season, Hill’s highlights on the ground included a 44-yard touchdown.

As a passer, he has gone 64.5 percent (172 of 268) of career throws for 2,025 yards and eight touchdowns to eight interceptions. It’s an area where Hill expects to see a significantly diminished role — and he can live with that.

“I would say I’m at peace with how the league works,” Hill said. “Things are not up to me. And so that being said, I’m ready to do what I have to do to help us win football games.

“And I love acting,” Hill noted. “So that creates opportunities for me to add value and be on the court and compete.”

NOTES: Winston, who left practice Monday with a foot injury, did not practice Tuesday. Allen said the diagnosis was a sprained right foot. “It’s really day to day. I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a challenge,” Allen said. “Certainly we’re going to make sure we get him back to good health before we put him back out there.” Allen said Winston will not play Saturday night’s preseason opener in Houston.

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