Immediately after news broke that Sam Bradford re-tore his ACL on Saturday night in Cleveland and would miss the entire 2014 season, I started receiving text and Twitter messages about available quarterback options for the Rams moving forward.
My response was the same every time: Shaun Hill in the short term, to-be-determined in the long-term.
The time to improve the backup situation behind Bradford was five months ago, when you were surveying the available free agents and finalizing your draft board. Any player acquired now would have to learn Brian Schottenheimer’s playbook, know how to confidently communicate that new verbiage to his teammates, build chemistry with his receivers and learn the pre-snap check principles that are already in place so that he can effectively audible at the line. Depending on the player, some of these skills are transferable, while others might as well be the equivalent of learning a new language.
But let’s back up for a second. The bigger and more important question is whether or not the new quarterback would be better than the one the Rams already have. Mark Sanchez? Sorry, but at the end of the day, he’s no better or worse than Hill.
Sanchez may have pulled the wool over some people’s eyes these last three weeks while running Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense against backups in preseason, but the fact remains that he never progressed in his three years under Schottenheimer in New York. Besides, according to this USA Today report, there’s apparently “no chance” that Sanchez would want to abandon his fresh start under Kelly for a shot to rejoin Schottenheimer in St. Louis. (No hard feelings, Mark – seriously.)
Hill has only attempted 16 passes over the past three seasons, but his career completion percentage is 61.9, his QB rating is 85.9 and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is 41:23. It’s highly unlikely that he’s going to come in and light it up, but he’s an upgrade over Kellen Clemens, whom the Rams won four games with a year ago when he was thrust into the starting lineup.
The bottom line, just as it was a year ago with Clemens, is that the Rams are going to win the games in which their rushing attack and defense dominate, and lose the games that put too much emphasis on Hill. The only difference is that Hill has a knack for making a big play from time to time, whereas Clemens was limited as a passer.
If things eventually unravel and Hill looks disastrous as the starter, the Rams may see how Austin Davis or rookie Garrett Gilbert handles the offense. If those options don’t sit right with you, remember that the Rams passed on LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas when they were all available in the fourth round or later back in May.
In fact, that’s the only criticism I have for the Rams in the wake of Bradford’s second ACL injury. Why did they wait so long to address their need at quarterback in the draft? Hey, I get it – you trust Bradford. He worked his ass off to not only be ready for Week 1 of the regular season, but also for training camp. Over the past few weeks, he looked poised to repay Jeff Fisher and the Rams for their commitment, too.
I also understand why the team didn’t want to invest a top-41 pick in Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater or Jimmy Garoppolo. Had an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III been available at No. 2 overall, then a debate could have been made well before the draft that the Rams should have moved on from Bradford. But “Johnny Football” won’t be confused with Andrew Luck anytime soon.
But I wrote and talked about it ad nauseam before the draft: I loved Mettenberger, who has put together a solid offseason in Tennessee. Granted, he too was coming off an ACL injury and had his faults, but the point is that the Rams would have had a solid developmental quarterback on their roster who played in a pro-style system under Cam Cameron at LSU. Maybe the Rams still would have gone with Hill to start the season, but in my eyes, they would have had a deeper pool of pro-ready talent to choose from.
All of that is moot now, of course, which gets back to the main point: Kurt Warner isn’t walking back through that door. Shaun Hill is your best short-term option.