The conclusion reached by the Vikings is that Hill is one Brad Johnson injury away from experiencing the first regular-season playing time in his NFL career.
The Broncos carry just Jake Plummer and Bradlee Van Pelt on theirs. The Colts carry just Peyton Manning and Jim Sorgi on their roster. After days of speculation featuring players ranging from Jeff George to Kordell Stewart to Rich Gannon, the Vikings squashed any and all rumors by opting to remain with just two quarterbacks on their roster.
With Daunte Culpepper and his torn ACL, MCL and PCL on injured reserve, the pecking order at quarterback for the Vikings is crystal clear. Johnson, who won a Super Bowl in Tampa in 2002, is the starter. Hill, who has never taken a snap in regular season play, is the backup. And receiver Koren Robinson, signed by the Vikings days before the season opener, is the emergency third-string quarterback.
Hill, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Maryland in 2002, was inactive for all seven games so far this season, and all 16 last year. He was active for a 2003 game against Atlanta as Gus Frerotte's backup when Culpepper injured his back, but did not play He was inactive for the other 15 games that season. As a rookie in 2002, he was inactive for all 16 games.
It was between his rookie and second seasons in the NFL when Hill says he made the major step toward being a pro quarterback.
"The difference was my confidence level," Hill said of his time with Amsterdam in NFL Europe. "When I went over there I had no game experience at the professional level. I had a decent preseason that year, but the game really felt like it was fast. So I went over there, got a lot of exposure, and the game slowed down a little bit for me when I got back."
Head coach Mike Tice has repeated often this week that he has confidence in Hill as Johnson's backup. That is why the Vikings didn't conduct an intense shopping spree for another quarterback.
"I feel like Shaun is an underrated quarterback. … I think Shaun is a lot better athlete than he has been given credit for," Tice said. "He is more of a timing thrower, but he understands our system very well. He has been in our system since day one and I have no qualms at all if something happened, God forbid, to Brad to have Shaun go in there."
Hill isn't rooting for Johnson to go down with injury. But if he does, Hill says he's ready.
"I feel comfortable with all the reads and play calls," Hill said. "I try to go in every game as the backup, anyway, even when I was a third stringer. I don't think it'll be too much different."
After three years with the Vikings, Hill is salivating at the chance to play. On Wednesday Hill conceded he thought he would be afforded a backup role before now.
"Obviously I hoped I would, but when you get the chance to pick up Brad Johnson in the offseason you've got to do it," Hill said. "I was hoping to get a chance before this, but the time has come."
The Vikings lost a quarterback who could run in Culpepper. Johnson and Hill, though, showcase similar styles.
"Very similar," Hill said. "Obviously he's got more experience. I think I have a little bit more athleticism now than he has at this stage in his life. But we're very similar style of quarterbacks."
In just half a season, Hill says he has learned some lessons from Johnson.
"You don't have to pipe every throw," Hill said. "I've got average arm strength like he does, and sometimes I try to overcompensate for that by throwing as hard as I can. He's taught me that you don't have to do that. Just get it out on time and put it in the right spot."
Johnson, who has missed three straight games, and Thomas were both healthy enough to play last week against the Panthers, but were deactivated on game day.