Rams turn to Hill but need more help

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
9:00
PM ET
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Summoning his best Dick Vermeil impression Sunday evening, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher began the sentence just how Vermeil did about 15 years ago.

"This team is going to rally around Shaun [Hill] and we’re going to go play ..." Fisher trailed off.

Hill
The story of the 1999 Rams has become the stuff of legend, and it all started with a torn anterior cruciate ligament to a starting quarterback just like the one that ended Sam Bradford's 2014 season before it began Saturday night in Cleveland.

The storybook tale of Kurt Warner replacing Trent Green and leading the Rams to a win in Super Bowl XXXIV is a cute parallel to what the Rams are going through now with Bradford out and Hill in, but it's also one of the game's legendary aberrations.

The 34-year-old Hill has been a steady backup who has started a handful of games over the course of a 12-year career. In that time, Hill has thrown for 6,381 yards, 41 touchdowns and 23 interceptions for a passer rating of 85.9. He compiled a 13-13 record as a starter and played 11 games with the Detroit Lions in 2010 in relief of Matthew Stafford.

Although he's in his first year with the Rams following four each in Detroit, San Francisco and Minnesota, Hill has plenty of experience playing in a variety of offenses with plenty of different coaches and players.

That's a far cry from Warner's story and that should be instructive in trying to determine what Hill brings to the table as the Rams' starter. Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer have no intention of asking Hill to air it out, just as they didn't with Bradford.

"Shaun has a great feeling for the offense right now and we’re going to move forward with it," Fisher said. "We’re not going to change anything. He knows the system. Everybody knows we are going to run the football first, and we’re going to do that and we’re going to do that well and we’re going to do that to start the season and then everything else will come off of that."

With Hill under center, the Rams have a steady hand who should be a better option than Kellen Clemens was when he took over for Bradford seven games into the 2013 season. The season shouldn't be lost with Hill in charge, but it's going to make what would have been an uphill climb to a postseason berth an even more daunting task.

Given the dearth of solid quarterbacks in the NFL, the Rams are wise to stick with the steady Hill as the starter rather than mortgage valuable draft picks to acquire someone who wouldn't be a guaranteed upgrade. Anyone who might be considered an upgrade probably would be unavailable, too expensive, or both.

To that end, Fisher shot down rumors about the team's interest in an outside quarterback who could potentially push Hill.

"I’ve heard that there’s speculation we’ve been on the phone," Fisher said. "That’s not true. It doesn’t mean to say we won’t but we haven’t done it to this point. Keep in mind these guys understand our system. Shaun is ready to play."

The bigger issue is what the Rams would do should something happen to Hill. For as experienced as Hill is, the Rams are equally inexperienced behind him. The current backup, Austin Davis, enters his third season with the team having never thrown a regular-season pass. Sixth-round draft choice Garrett Gilbert is a developmental rookie with a lot of improvement to make before he could play.

So even with rumors of the Rams' interest in players such as Mark Sanchez, Ryan Mallett, Kirk Cousins and so many others, they aren't planning to make an impulse purchase just to say they've done something.

"It makes no sense to jump and react right now and try to fill the hole, whatever it costs," Fisher said. "We’re going to take our time and evaluate this. There’s going to be some quarterbacks that are getting released and there may or may not be some quarterbacks that have trade value. We just don’t know. It’s way too soon."

Waiting is fine for now, but the Rams would be wise to find a way before the season starts to add a backup with experience to back up the one who is now starting.

Nick Wagoner

ESPN St. Louis Rams reporter

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