One of the priorities for the Rams this offseason was to upgrade over Kellen Clemens at backup quarterback. Last year, Clemens did all he could after Sam Bradford went down with a season-ending ACL injury to his left knee, but even though he maxed out his abilities and had his best season, in nine games Clemens had a career-high eight touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a completion percentage of 58.7.
If Bradford goes down again, they want someone with a chance to win a game with his arm. And that guy is Shaun Hill, who has been an effective backup in the past with San Francisco and Detroit. Of the six seasons he’s thrown a pass in the NFL, he’s had a better than 60-percent completion ratio in five of them. He’s had seasons of 16 and 13 touchdowns, and had never thrown more interceptions than TDs in a season. Hill’s career includes 41 touchdowns and just 23 picks.
Hill just turned 34 and has thrown a total of 16 passes in the last three years, but is an almost certain upgrade over Clemens. He has shown the ability to win games with his arm, doing so against the Rams several times. In 2008 he had a 15-of-20, two-touchdown, 213-yard performance in a 35-16 win over St. Louis, and in 2009 orchestrated a 35-0 win at Candlestick. At the Edward Jones Dome later that year, he tossed the final touchdown pass that Isaac Bruce caught in the NFL, and then dissected the Rams as a member of the Lions in 2009, going 21-32 for 227 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 44-6 win over the Rams at Ford Field.
The pedigree is there, and the production has been reasonably strong. The only real hiccup in Hill’s career was when Mike Martz was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator in 2008. Although Hill had performed well for San Francisco (under current Rams quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti), Martz brought along J.T. O’Sullivan from Detroit and didn’t show much desire to give Hill a chance. But another former Rams head coach, Scott Linehan, seemed to get the most out of his abilities with the Lions. With Matthew Stafford injured in 2010, Hill started 10 games, tossing 16 touchdown passes with twelve interceptions.
Hill arrives as a player with no illusions of fighting for a starting job, which a guy like Mark Sanchez would have. He also has a stronger arm than Clemens or Sanchez, which, for an offense blessed with several fast receivers and tight ends, is important if the Rams must come back from a deficit. Of the four games the Rams won with Clemens at the helm, there wasn’t a single instance where he was able to lead a comeback. Whenever they fell behind – and there were close losses against Seattle and Tennessee – they weren’t able to pass their way back into a game. In his career, Hill has four game-winning drives and four fourth-quarter comebacks, so he’s shown the ability to rally his team late.
For those concerned about Hill’s relative lack of activity over the last few years, consider the case of new Tampa Bay starting quarterback Josh McCown. He’ll turn 35 before training camp, and prior to last year’s “breakout” with the Bears, had thrown just 61 passes in four seasons, including years of zero, six and zero attempts. Players these days don’t have to worry much about rust, so that shouldn’t be a factor with Hill.
Of the available guys, Hill is a very good fit as a backup. If the Rams had wanted a little more competition for the starting job, there were other players out there. But with Bradford anointed as the starter, they needed someone comfortable and happy with being a backup. From that standpoint, they made a good choice in Shaun Hill.