Vikings cautious of Hill-Linehan pairing

Shaun Hill isn't the big-armed quarterback that attracts the attention of fans, but he certainly knows his way around Scott Linehan's offense. The two started their pro careers together in Minnesota and now face the Vikings all these years later.

When discussions begin about the best quarterbacks in the league, the topics usually involve the usual suspects – Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, etc. One name that doesn't come up – ever – in that discussion is Shaun Hill.

The former Viking is going to start Sunday while starter Matthew Stafford tries to heal his ailing shoulder. One Viking has a little better insight than most as to what Hill is capable of doing is tight end Jeff Dugan, who played college ball with Hill at Maryland. He said that, while Hill doesn't have the rocket arm that most starting quarterbacks have, he is successful in his own way – minimizing mistakes and taking what defenses give him.

"He does a good job of managing the game," Dugan said. "He's very smart and knows how to read defenses. He isn't like Brett, who makes the spectacular play look easy, but he is an excellent game manager. He doesn't make the plays that kill his team. He is very good at seeing the field and making the right read. He takes it as it comes."

Hill was one of the few Terrapin quarterbacks to excel in a complicated option offense that had multiple reads on every play. He rarely put his team in a bad position and made the most of his opportunities, something that is far from simple.

"We ran a pretty complex offense at Maryland and he picked it up very quickly," Dugan said. "A lot of quarterbacks have had trouble in that offense, because it's complicated. But Shaun was able to handle everything thrown at him. That's why he's lasted as long in the league as he has."

In the NFL, no offense is more complicated than the phonebook-sized playbook of Mike Martz. When Martz was hired in San Francisco, one of the first things he did was get Hill to come in to compete for the starting job. First overall draft pick Alex Smith was supposed to be the franchise player, but it was Hill who had the most success running Martz's high-octane, pass-happy offense. He excelled where Smith failed.

His backup role with the Lions has reunited him with former Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who tutored Hill early in his pro career. His familiarity with Linehan's offense, according to defensive tackle Kevin Williams, makes him potentially more dangerous than the strong-armed Stafford.

"He was with Scott Linehan when he was here and he did a good job of moving the ball when he got in there last week," Williams said. "If anything, he allows them to open up the playbook more than they do (with second-year pro Matthew) Stafford. He has more options and gets the ball out pretty good."

Linehan appreciates what Hill brings to the offense.

"Him playing and preparing another week, he's a machine out here. I mean he comes out and he has this game plan just down pat as far as where it has to go and now he has to go out and execute," Linehan said. "I'm really impressed with how he hung in there and battled. ... He's put us in position to win two games now. If we can put him, as a team, in that position again and have him be able to do that, it would be huge."

Hill doesn't wow opposing defensive coordinators, but he does a lot of things right. He protects the ball. He doesn't force passes. He is patient. He reminds Dugan of another former teammate, one who started his career in a similar fashion to Hill and wound up winning a Super Bowl before all was said and done.

"He knows the ins and outs and reminds me a lot of Brad Johnson," Dugan said. "He isn't going to make a lot of mistakes. Before the snap comes, he is going do diagnose what he's facing, where the pressure will be coming from and where his hot read will be. He's very smart and sees things very well."

The Lions are an 11-point underdog to the Vikings Sunday and Hill is one of the reasons. He isn't viewed as the kind of guy who can lead his team to a string of victories. He is a backup who is just keeping the seat warm until Stafford returns. But Dugan is quick to point out that, if you underestimate Hill, he can and will burn you.

"He has learned a lot in his time in the NFL, which is why he's still in the league," Dugan said. "If you're looking for a game manager, he is about as good as they get. We know what he's capable of. Other people may say the Lions are in trouble if he is starting, but he does too many things well to just ignore him. If we don't get after him, he will show everybody what he is capable of doing. He isn't in the category of quarterbacks like Brett is in, but he is good and we will have to play our best or he will take advantage of any mistakes we make."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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