Lions' Hill best of the backups

Lions' Hill best of the backups

Published Sep. 27, 2012 9:58 a.m. ET

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — It’s not going to happen in Detroit because Matthew Stafford is clearly established as the face of the franchise.

But Shaun Hill is good enough to get a quarterback controversy started in other places.

When you see him do things like he did Sunday, leading the Lions to two touchdowns in the final 18 seconds to force overtime, it makes you wonder why Hill isn’t one of the league’s 32 starting QBs.

“There’s some people that are given everything and you wonder what they did to get it,” Hill said. “And there’s some people that have done everything that they needed to do and it just didn’t happen for them. That’s just the way it works out.”

If Hill played more, his limitations certainly would be exposed more. He doesn’t have the rifle arm that the man he plays behind possesses, that’s for sure.

And if the truth be told, that crazy comeback at Tennessee — the Hail Mary connection with Titus Young as time expired, only to lose in OT — never would have happened if a personal-foul penalty on the Titans hadn’t negated an interception thrown by Hill before the last-second fireworks.

In reality, Hill is simply the ideal backup.

“Definition of backup quarterback is a guy that, if you lose a starter for whatever reason — if he wakes up with the flu, if he’s out for the year, he’s out for two weeks, whatever it is, he’s out in the fourth quarter of the game and you’re down 14 points — you have to be able to go and give your team a chance to win,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “Shaun defines that.”

Stafford, who was knocked out of the Tennessee game in the final minutes because of an injured right hip, returned to practice Thursday.

But if for some reason, he’s not ready to go Sunday against Minnesota, Hill will be ready to take over.

“No. 1 thing is to accept your role but don’t always be satisfied in your role,” Hill said, describing his philosophy on being football’s bridesmaid. “You can do both. You can accept your role as a backup but … you’re always continuing to try to improve and further your career.

"Obviously, everybody’s goal is to be a starter and to play.”

Hill, 32, wasn’t considered a pro prospect coming out of Maryland in 2002. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by Minnesota and stayed with the Vikings, even though he appeared in only one game, through 2005.

Hill then emerged to start 16 games for San Francisco between 2007-09, but he eventually lost that job to Alex Smith, the first pick overall by the 49ers in the 2005 NFL Draft.

The Lions acquired Hill for only a seventh-round draft pick before 2010. He made 10 starts that season because of a shoulder injury suffered by Stafford.

The Lions lost seven of Hill’s first eight games, but he came back from a fractured left forearm to win the final two of the season.

It was also Hill, not Stafford, who threw the controversial pass to Calvin Johnson in the opening game at Chicago two years ago. It appeared to be the winning touchdown but was ruled incomplete — much to the frustration of the Lions — because Johnson didn’t “complete the process” of making the catch as he went to the ground.

Over the last offseason, Hill became a free agent, but he couldn’t find a starting job and returned to Detroit on a two-year deal.

“I’m very fortunate, trust me,” Hill said. “You’ll never hear me say anything otherwise.

“I wasn’t even invited to the (scouting) combine, so I wasn’t even chosen as one of the top 30-something quarterbacks in college in 2002. I’m very fortunate to be sitting where I’m sitting.”

The feeling is mutual. The Lions feel blessed to have such a reliable replacement in case anything happens to Stafford.

They hope Hill never plays a down, but if it’s necessary, they know they’ve got a veteran who can deliver without notice.

“He’s the consummate pro, that guy,” Stafford said.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier believes there’s a special connection between Hill and his teammates, which isn’t always the case for a No. 2 QB.

“Those guys seem like they have a lot of confidence in him at the helm,” Frazier said. “It just seems like the players kind of rally around his veteran experience.”

FOX analyst Brian Billick, a former NFL coach, has called Hill the league’s top backup quarterback right now.

You can also argue that Hill would produce more than some of the other starters around the league.

Fortunately for the Lions, he’s still around to pick up the pieces when Stafford goes down.