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METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees laughed when he was asked how much fun Sean Payton is having with Taysom Hill this season.
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"He loves it. Oh, he loves it," Brees said. "A new toy. That's Sean's new toy."
Can you blame him?
Payton is one of the NFL's all-time great innovators. And he is suddenly getting the chance to add new pages to his playbook because of the New Orleans Saints' do-everything quarterback who has been compared to everyone from Tim Tebow to Kordell Stewart to Michael Vick to Jim Thorpe.
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We've seen Hill line up as a read-option quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end, kickoff returner and special-teams coverage specialist. He has converted two fake punts (one passing and one running). And he has run the ball 18 times for 125 yards and a touchdown for a 5-1 team that is gaining steam.
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During one practice session, Payton practically looked like he was drawing up a new play in the dirt (or the artificial turf, anyway), moving players around like chess pieces.
"It's kind of a learning process, you know. And I think having this weapon now is really intriguing, because Taysom is so versatile, he can do so many things," said Brees, who is now lining up as a wide receiver a few times a game -- though the ball hasn't been thrown his way yet. So for now, the Saints' starting quarterback has one career TD reception, from LaDainian Tomlinson with the San Diego Chargers in 2003.
But the season is young.
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"We're still just kind of scratching the surface," Brees said. "We're still just kind of learning what we can do with all that stuff."
When Payton was asked recently if he has always had all those wrinkles in his mind or if he has been designing them to specifically utilize Hill, Payton joked, "I hadn't given it much thought with Drew, to be honest with you, in 12 years."
Payton isn't alone.
Hill is a rare athlete at 6-foot-2, 221 pounds who reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds at BYU's pro day in 2017. Teammates and coaches marvel at his weight room prowess. Apparently coaches in college told him he wasn't allowed to squat more than 700 pounds. Saints punter Thomas Morstead said when Hill squats 500 pounds, he looks like he's just casually standing up out of a chair.
So when coaches see him, they all think, "What can I do with this guy?"
That's how longtime special-teams coordinator Mike Westhoff felt when he joined the Saints' staff last season and asked to borrow Hill for his own purposes. (Hill finished the year with four special-teams tackles and has three more this season.)
That's how Packers coach Mike McCarthy felt when Green Bay signed Hill as a 26-year-old undrafted rookie last year. Hill missed the 53-man roster cut; Green Bay wanted him back on the practice squad, but the Saints claimed him off waivers instead.
And that's how Bronco Mendenhall, Hill's first college coach at BYU, felt when Hill joined the Cougars in 2012 after a two-year church mission.
Mendenhall, who is now the coach at Virginia, said the Cougars rewrote their playbook to design an attack around Hill's abilities as both a runner and passer -- with a heavy emphasis on the read-option.
"When we saw him it was, 'OK, he can throw it. But let's research and design and develop this other component.' So it was enough to change an entire style of play," said Mendenhall, who laughed as he heard a list of everything Hill has done with the Saints this season.
"It doesn't surprise me, it just makes me smile. It's just like, 'Yeah, totally. What else can he do? Is that all they're doing with him? There's gotta be something else,'" Mendenhall joked. "I wish during my career I could have him again, because you're always trying to figure out how else you can innovate and be creative to get him on the field in a way to help you win."
Taysom Hill finished a stellar career at BYU with 6,929 passing yards, 43 TD passes, 2,815 rushing yards and 32 rushing TDs. Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY Sports 'Part superhero and part quarterback' Although Mendenhall can't work with Hill specifically anymore, he has forever shaped the coach's perception of the type of quarterback he's looking for:
A superhero type.
Mendenhall said he couldn't remember who it was, exactly. But someone on BYU's staff referred to Hill as a "Thor-terback," and the name immediately stuck because "he's part superhero and part quarterback all in one."
"There's really nothing you could tell me that he's done on the field that would surprise me. He leaps tall buildings in a single bound and he stops locomotives. And he does basically anything physically that I could ever imagine," said Mendenhall, who said it wasn't just Hill's athleticism, but the combination of power and speed, great decision-making and his character as a role model that made the "superhero" idea so fitting.
And now, Mendenhall said, "That is our brand."
"We have a player now in Bryce Perkins that is a little more Flash Gordon than Thor, but it's still the superhero idea. That's what we've been looking for," Mendenhall said. "That's probably the greatest compliment I could pay Taysom, is we want as many of those guys as we can, and he was the one that set the mold."
Payton is likewise enamored with Hill's "total package" skill set. Although he has standout speed for the position, he also has a great deal of power and physicality.
"Look, he does so many different things. He's a football player," Payton said. "When his game is over with, and it's a grass field, [his uniform] is gonna be dirty."
According to NFL Next Gen stats, Hill has covered 3.1 miles on the field this season -- the most of any quarterback in the league because of his special-teams coverage snaps.
Injuries were Hill's kryptonite in college, so to speak. He could have been a much bigger star if he hadn't suffered four season-ending injuries during his five years at BYU.
He actually was touted as a Heisman Trophy contender heading into his first senior season in 2015 before he suffered his most devastating injury in the season opener against Nebraska -- a Lisfranc injury that included fully torn ligaments in the middle of his foot.
He also suffered a knee injury in 2012, a broken leg in 2014 and a hyperextended elbow in 2016.
Yet Hill still managed to end his BYU career with 6,929 passing yards, 43 TD passes, 2,815 rushing yards and 32 rushing TDs.
"It's completely gratifying [to see what Hill is doing today]," Mendenhall said. "His fortitude and his resiliency and his grit and his determination coming back from injuries, I think that just made him stronger and stronger and stronger.
"That almost works now to the opponents' detriment -- because he just became stronger through those than he already was before -- which is almost not even fair."
Saints coach Sean Payton on utilizing Taysom Hill: "Look, he does so many different things. He's a football player." Scott Clause/The Advertiser via USA TODAY NETWORK 'A competitor first' Hill never gave up -- and still hasn't given up his dream of being a NFL quarterback, even though he is already a 28-year-old NFL sophomore.
But in the meantime, he's embracing every opportunity the Saints throw at him. He said he is "a competitor first."
"No, I did not picture my career going this way in the NFL," Hill said with a smile. "Look, at the end of the day I want to have an opportunity to play quarterback in the NFL. But if I can help in the meantime, I'm all for it.
"I love to compete. I love to be on the field. And I'll tell you what, it has been so much fun to be in the huddle with Drew, to be on the field with Drew, to learn from him. It's been a highlight of my career."
Payton was so enamored with Hill's potential last year that he apparently told the Fox broadcasting crew during their production meetings that Brees' heir is "in the building."
However, Hill wasn't consistent enough as a passer this offseason to lock down the No. 2 job behind Brees -- which led New Orleans to trade a third-round draft pick for the more experienced Teddy Bridgewater.
So Payton just tweaked his vision for Hill.
Not everything the Saints have done with Hill this season has turned to gold. His attempted pitch to running back Alvin Kamara on a read-option play from the Baltimore Ravens' 4-yard line resulted in a fourth-down fumble this past Sunday. Hill also decided to keep the ball himself two weeks ago on a play when the tape later showed Kamara could have easily broken free up the middle for a long TD run. And Hill's only NFL catch so far went for a 4-yard loss.
But the progress -- and the growing faith the Saints have in Hill -- is impossible to miss. He played a career-high 26 snaps in that critical Week 7 slugfest at Baltimore, including an 11-yard run during the go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter when he was lined up as a true running back and took a pitch from Brees.
According to ESPN Stats & Information tracking, Brees and Hill have been on the field together for eight of the Saints' 24 offensive touchdowns this season. The rest of the NFL has scored a total of three touchdowns with two quarterbacks on the field.
Two superhero quarterbacks on the field at the same time. Apparently Payton is stealing some of his ideas from the Marvel movie universe.
No wonder he's having so much fun.