The New Orleans Saints will experience life without Drew Brees for a significant amount of time for the first time since 2005, as the face of the franchise will be out a minimum of six weeks with a torn thumb ligament. The Saints have prepared for a lengthy absence of Brees by making Teddy Bridgewater the highest-paid No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. Sure Bridgewater is the starter, but the Saints have the freedom and creativity to unleash No. 3 quarterback Taysom Hill, who is set for a much larger role in the offense.
The Saints have previously used Hill as a quarterback, H-back and wide receiver in their first two games of the season, as Hill has two carries for eight yards with three catches for 25 yards and a touchdown. With Brees out, Hill caught two passes for 16 yards, but he didn't attempt a pass and received zero carries.
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That's not how the Saints should use Hill while Brees isn't the starting quarterback, nor is it an indictment how they will use Hill over the next six games and possibly more. Saints head coach Sean Payton was quoted in the preseason comparing Hill as "the next Steve Young."
"If you look back at Steve's career and people do not remember his time before he came into the NFL, you had a very athletic player that I think advanced when he got to San Francisco and he always had great ability with his legs," Payton said to media members in August. "You're trying to create visions for players no different than how you would evaluate, you know, how you see Teddy (Bridgewater) progressing, what he can be in and I think that that is the business we are in.
"I think that was something that as you began to watch his skill set you're just trying to think of players that were similar at an early stage in your career."
Hill certainly has the athleticism Young possessed in his early years with the USFL's Los Angeles Express, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers, but the Saints have an incredible opportunity to use Hill similar to Young now that he's the No. 2 quarterback as an added weapon in the offense.
Taking Brees off the field for Hill's talents was never an option, but the Saints can take the risk with Bridgewater. In Young's first five seasons with the 49ers (1987-1991), head coach Bill Walsh used Young as a gadget quarterback when he wasn't filling in for an injured Joe Montana. The result, 23 touchdowns to six interceptions.
Young was used as a decoy to free up Montana to find Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Roger Craig and others in the West Coast offense, but defenses had to prepare for Young to get the ball in his hands and the damage he could do with his arm and his legs.
The Saints can use Hill in the same way, lining him up as an H-back with the opportunity to get the football in short-yardage situations or as an option to spread the offense and free up lanes for Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, and second-year explosive wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith. Hill can replace Bridgewater as the quarterback in certain formations with an added threat to run while delivering accurate passes across the middle of the field.
It's time for the Saints to unleash "the next Steve Young," or Payton was just blowing smoke toward his No. 3 quarterback this whole time -- only time will tell.