Hill re-acclimates quickly to Vikings

Shaun Hill found a sense a familiarity when he re-joined the Minnesota Vikings.

Of all the players in Mankato, one of them has a memory to pre-date just about every player, coach and even General Manager Rick Spielman.

Shaun Hill made his first appearance in Mankato in 2002. In four seasons with the Vikings, his only stats were two kneel-downs in mop-up duty at the end of one game. It seemed as though that would be the extent of his Vikings history.

He moved onto San Francisco, where he was a part-time starter for three seasons. He then went to Detroit, where he started 11 games in his first season (2010) and none in his final three. It appeared as though his career might be over, but, in 2014, St. Louis came calling and he ended up starting nine games for the Rams.

Fresh off a career renaissance, he is the prodigal son returning home to where it all started. He is no stranger to showing up in a new locker room, but he is happy to be back in Minnesota because, while the names and faces have been changed, it still feels like home a decade later because of the welcoming nature of the Vikings organization.

“It’s kind of the nature of the business,” Hill said. “A lot of players come into a new locker room. Most guys are used to it and everyone is very receptive to you. Everyone here has been great about helping me get acclimated here and up to speed with everything at Winter Park. They accepted me right away, which was nice. This is an exceptional locker room full of guys and everyone has been very welcoming. It was very easy to transition here. It’s been seamless.”

The one advantage he has seen on his return to Minnesota is that his sense memory has kicked into the lay of the land of 10,000 lakes. Roads look familiar. So do restaurants and grocery stores.

A lot of changed since he went away, but much has also remained the same. There’s a comforting feeling in having a sense of backhand with his new surroundings, as a sense of déjà vu has set in for Hill.

“Coming back to Minnesota was great because I’ve been here before and nothing was completely new,” Hill said. “I knew where to go look for a house to stay in. I had a familiarity with the area which I picked back up pretty quickly. There were a lot of things that helped contribute to making this a good move for me and an easy transition.”

His second time around in Minnesota is like a wine that has improved with age. He was green as grass when he was initially with the Vikings. Now he is a ripened veteran who has been through the battles and has the scars to show it.

The irony of the NFL is that, as you learn the nuances of the game to a depth that can’t be understood by rookies, you age to the point that your knowledge doesn’t equate with your athleticism. Hill may be a decade older than he was the first time around, but his knowledge of the game has grown exponentially through experience.

“I think the more different looks you’ve had during your career, the better it makes you overall,” Hill said. “If you’ve seen something before, you have that recall the next time you see it. The NFL is a game of adaptation. You change what you do from week to week based on the defense you’re facing. If I can bring that experience to the quarterbacks room and to help out Teddy with things maybe he hasn’t seen that I have, it helps make our team as whole a little bit better.”

In Week 1 of 2014, Hill started against the Vikings but was injured. Austin Davis went the rest of the game and the rest of the first half of the season before giving way to Hill again.

Week 1 this season, Hill is expected to be on the Minnesota sidelines when the Vikings open the season at San Francisco under the Monday night spotlight. He won’t be wearing a helmet at the opening kickoff. He will be equipped with a baseball cap, a headset and tablet, just like he was last year in St. Louis when the Vikings came to town.

By the end of that game, he was wearing a helmet and leading his newfound offense. As far as the Vikings are concerned, they will prefer to keep Hill in a ball cap and a headset. But as the Rams found out in Week 1 last year and the Vikings found out in Week 2, a starting quarterback can be a fluid situation. Hill is a hired gun at the ready, but his call to duty has to be expected, even if not viewed as being ideal.

“Your approach stays the same whether you’re starting or not,” Hill said. “You strive to improve every day, not make the same mistake twice and be the best player you can be. My role from week to week could change just because of the nature of the position. You have to be ready to step in whenever your number gets called. I understand that. My goal right now is to get better every day and help Teddy as much as I can to be as good as he can possibly be.”

Hill finds himself in a duality position. He wants to prove his worth, but, if all goes as the Vikings hope, his next team stats won’t be passes, rather kneeling down at the end of a game Bridgewater has won.

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