What Can Rams Expect from Shaun Hill This Season in Wake of Sam Bradford Injury?

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 24, 2014

St. Louis Rams quarterback Shaun Hill drops back to pass during the third quarter of an NFL preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
Tom Gannam/Associated Press

Any thoughts the St. Louis Rams had of riding Sam Bradford into the postseason in 2014 disappeared on Saturday when the quarterback injured his knee against the Cleveland Browns.

According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Bradford tore the ACL in his left knee and will miss the entire 2014 campaign. It is the exact same injury that forced the former Oklahoma standout to miss nine games last season.

This obviously sends Bradford's NFL future spiraling into a state of uncertainty and leaves the Rams with just two weeks to prepare a backup plan for their regular-season opener on September 7.

That backup plan most likely involves No. 2 quarterback Shaun Hill, a soon-to-be 13-year veteran who has previously spent time with the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions.

The good news is that Hill possesses a fair amount of starting experience (26 starts between 2007 and 2010). The bad news is that he has not started a game since the 2010 season and has obtained the majority of his playing opportunities as an injury replacement.

So what exactly can the Rams expect from Hill this coming season?

On paper, St. Louis will be trotting out a signal-caller who owns a respectable career passer rating of 85.9 and who has tossed 41 touchdowns and just 23 interceptions as a pro.

These are certainly not discouraging numbers, especially when you consider that they compare well with the career numbers for Bradford (79.3 rating, 59 touchdowns, 38 interceptions).

Shaun Hill Career Statistics
CompAttComp %TDIntRate
via NFL.com

Hill has shown some reasons for concern this preseason. He has completed just 47 percent of his passes (8-of-17 for 143 yards), though he has tossed two touchdown passes.

He is currently ranked 55th among quarterbacks for the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). 

This is why the Rams had to be seriously concerned when Bradford first went down with the injury on Saturday night. It is also why the team may be tempted to give former undrafted free agent Austin Davis (27-of-44 for 372 yards and three touchdowns this preseason) an opportunity.

However, Hill is really the best option for St. Louis at this point, barring a trade. Like any seasoned journeyman, he also brings a number of positives along with the concerns.

Perhaps the biggest plus is the fact that Hill has been in this situation before. At various times, he took over the starting job in San Francisco and did the same when Matthew Stafford was injured with the Detroit Lions.

He ranked 13th overall among quarterbacks in 2010, according to Pro Football Focus.

While Hill may have to shake off a little rust after not starting a meaningful game in almost four years, pressure shouldn't be an issue.

Hill is also a high-percentage passer (61.9 career completion percentage) who doesn't turn the ball over with excessive frequency (14 interceptions in his past 16 starts).

Though he does not possess the same field-stretching arm strength of Bradford, Hill has the experience and the savvy to effectively manage football games. He also seems to have a decent grasp of the St. Louis offensive philosophy.

"(He) has a good feel for what we’re doing and a good sense for timing and throws a nice ball, a catchable ball," head coach Jeff Fisher said of Hill following the team's preseason opener, according to ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner 

Expect him to work with playmakers like Chris Givens and Kenny Britt to take what the defense gives while the Rams lean on the ground game (ranked 10th this preseason, averaging 123.3 yards per game) and defense (ranked 14th, allowing 313 yards per contest) to keep Hill in manageable situations.

This, of course, places additional pressure on running backs like Zac Stacy and Tre Mason, who will likely face more eight-man fronts without the threat of Bradford's cannon arm. Expect a heavier workload for the Rams backfield and less space for the ground game to operate. 

Opponents are sure to dare St. Louis to beat them through the air, though gearing up the pass rush may actually play to Hill's strengths. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the second-best quarterback under pressure in 2010, only behind Tom Brady. 

The bottom line is that Hill is a serviceable quarterback and should be good enough to keep the Rams in plenty of contests this season.

The problem is that the Rams reside in arguably the strongest division in football. St. Louis was considered a long shot to emerge from the NFC West as a playoff team even with Bradford at full health.

With Hill under center instead, the road to the postseason just became even steeper.