Now that the news out of St. Louis yesterday on Sam Bradford has had time to settle, it’s time for the Rams to rally around Shaun Hill as quarterback. Hill, in turn, after years in the league as a backup, will get an opportunity to the starter for a team, for really the first time. From 2007 to 2010, Hill served as a frequently used backup and got to start 26 games over the course of those four seasons. He has thrown 16 passes as Matthew Stafford’s backup since then.
Last year, we saw Josh McCown come out of nowhere at age 34 to throw 13 touchdown passes, while replacing Jay Cutler. McCown had started only two games in the previous five years and was completely out of the game until Chicago talked him into returning.
McCown and Hill will now both start a season opener after their 34th birthdays. Who are the others who started a season opener since the merger, after their 32nd birthday, with less than 50 career starts to their credit?
Lots of great stories on that list. Dieter Brock played one season in the NFL, at the age of 34, after a lengthy CFL career. The Rams reached the NFC Championship game before getting bludgeoned by the Bears. Jeff Garcia and Doug Flutie were also in the CFL. Tommy Maddox spent time in the XFL.
Frank Reich had been responsible for the biggest playoff comeback ever, as a little used backup to Jim Kelly. Jeff Hostetler had defeated the Bills in the Super Bowl a few years earlier, but finally left New York for his own gig.
Of those on the list, Bratkowski, Gagliano, and Herrmann were pure stopgap starts and only started the openers. Others started all year. Many of these guys had decent seasons. Steve Bono rode an excellent Chiefs defense to a 13-3 record.
Don’t rule out that Hill will surprise and put together a yeoman-like effort with a running game and defense in St. Louis. When he played in the past, he generally outperformed the other quarterbacks on the roster and did a decent job coming off the bench.
In games started by Hill, his teams went 13-13; in other games those seasons, the team went 13-25.
Quarterback records can be deceiving in a team sport, but Hill’s numbers were also better. He completed 61.7% of his passes (compared to 56.3% for others), averaged 0.5 yard per attempt more, had a better touchdown rate, and a better interception rate. The other quarterbacks included the likes of Alex Smith, Trent Dilfer, and a young Matt Stafford.
It has been three seasons, though, since he has played a significant role. A lot can change in three years. Don’t rule Hill out, though; he’s a smart player that can actually fill the role of “game manager” and handle a run-based offense and play within the confines of his limitations. Sam Bradford didn’t exactly put up vastly superior numbers to his backups the last few years. Jeff Fisher once rode a (far more accomplished) veteran to a 13-3 season when Kerry Collins came of the bench to replace Vince Young.
While that kind of season would be unexpected in St. Louis given the tough schedule in the NFC West, I also don’t think it’s time to panic.