O'Hara: Hill goes to great lengths to ensure he's game-ready

Posted Sep 26, 2012

Regardless of Matthew Stafford's health, Hill's routine never changes. That includes last season, when Stafford started every game and Hill got into only one game for mop-up duty. He threw three passes, completing two.

It is selling Shaun Hill short to say that he is ramping up his practice routine to prepare as though he'll start at quarterback for the Lions in Sunday's game against the Vikings.

Hill is doing just that, because of a muscle injury that makes Matthew Stafford's status uncertain.

But except for running the offense in practice Wednesday while Stafford was a spectator, Hill's approach this week is no different than any other week.

He prepares to start every week – not just when the opportunity might arise.

He has given the Lions a high level of professionalism in his three seasons as Stafford's primary backup.

"The definition (of a backup) is you have to be able to go and give your team a chance to win," Coach Jim Schwartz said Wednesday. "Shaun defines that."

Around the locker room, Hill's teammates consider him a starting-caliber quarterback. Earlier this year, former Ravens coach Brian Billick called Hill the best backup in the league.

Hill played his role to perfection in last week's 44-41 overtime loss to the Titans.

Hill threw two touchdown passes in the last 18 seconds to send the game into overtime. In the extra session, the Lions were within range of a tying field goal, with fourth down at the Titans' seven-yard line.

The play failed when center Dominic Raiola snapped the ball when he wasn't supposed to. The plan was to try to draw the Titans offside and not snap the ball.

When Hill got the snap unexpectedly, he really had no chance as he lunged ahead futilely to get the first down.

There has been no definitive word on Stafford's status. My gut feeling, based on nothing official, is that Stafford will play, unless the injury is aggravated before Sunday.

Stafford's demeanor during the portion of practice open to the media, and in his regular Wednesday interview session, was not indicative of someone down in the dumps over not playing.

Stafford gave a light-hearted answer when asked if he has a better chance of playing Sunday because the injury is to his leg, not his passing arm.

"It probably does improve that, considering I use my arms more than my legs," he said.

Regardless of Stafford's health, Hill's routine never changes. That includes last season, when Stafford started every game and Hill got into only one game for mop-up duty. He threw three passes, completing two.

No matter what the situation, or how long the odds are against him playing, Hill goes to great lengths to keep himself game-ready.

Example 1: On game day, Hill wears a helmet with earpieces that allows him to hear the plays relayed to the quarterback by offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Most backups listen through an ear bud. They're more comfortable, and the reception is clearer than the helmet earpieces.

"I do it because it actually sounds different in the helmet than it does in the ear bud," Hill explained Wednesday. "It's a lot easier to understand in the ear bud.

"I wear the helmet, number one, so I don't have to go find it if I have to go out there. Number two, so I'm always hearing it through the helmet. I always get the calls clearly."

Example 2: In practice, Linehan relays the calls to the quarterbacks with the communicator, the same as in a game. Stafford, who takes most of the offensive reps, repeats the play in the huddle.

Hill hears he play and repeats it. The reason, he says, is to get used to repeating the verbiage, so he won't stumble in a game because he's out of practice.

The Lions recognized Hill's value soon after they acquired him in a trade with San Francisco in 2010. Hill was on the last year of his contract, and the Lions added a year to it before the start of the season.

Hill became a free agent after last season, and the Lions re-signed him for two years.

For a player who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2002, Hill has achieved a level of security, without complacency.

"I‘m very fortunate, trust me," Hill said. "You'll never hear me say anything otherwise. I wasn't even invited to the combine. I wasn't even chosen as one of the top 30-something quarterbacks in college in 2002.

"The number one thing is to accept your role, but don't always be set in your role. You can do both. You can accept your role as a backup, but don't always be satisfied with it."