METAIRIE, La. — Taysom Hill will make his first start at quarterback this season for the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night, a source told ESPN, after he practiced fully all week with a partially torn plantar fascia that has limited him since Week 10.
However, the Saints offense might not be at full strength yet against the Dallas Cowboys. Running back Alvin Kamara and offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk are all listed as questionable with knee injuries.
Kamara practiced on a limited basis all week, a positive sign. But he is still ramping back up from the injury that sidelined him for the past three games. The good news is that backup running back Mark Ingram is a full-go after he also missed last Thursday night’s loss to the Buffalo Bills with a knee injury of his own.
Meanwhile, Armstead did not practice all week, despite having returned to the lineup last Thursday night. And Ramczyk, who has missed the past two games, practiced on a limited basis Monday before being held out of practice both Tuesday and Wednesday.
The barrage of injuries has taken its toll on a Saints team that has lost four straight games to fall to 5-6 and currently out of the NFC’s playoff picture.
They are hoping that Hill can help revive their sagging offense, even if he is not quite back to full strength yet. The versatile playmaker was limited to an emergency backup role the past two weeks. But he said Tuesday he is feeling “a lot better” this week.
Coach Sean Payton stopped just short of naming Hill the starter Tuesday, saying that he wanted to see how Hill was feeling on Wednesday. But Hill has been preparing to start, barring any setbacks in his recovery.
“The last couple days have been encouraging for me,” said Hill, who explained that a full tear is actually better in most cases since a partial tear can be so continuously painful. But he said they have now started to reach the point where he just has to deal with the pain and “it doesn’t limit functionality.” That is obviously key, since Hill’s running ability is such a great asset for him.
Hill’s opportunity comes one week after he signed a unique contract extension with the Saints that is worth a base value of $40 million over four years if he continues to play his usual role as a QB/RB/TE/WR — but could be worth up to $95 million if he becomes the team’s starting quarterback and reaches lofty incentives.
Hill went 3-1 as the Saints’ starter last season as an injury replacement for Drew Brees before losing out to Winston in a battle for the job in the summer.
Winston suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 8. But Hill’s own health has complicated his availability this season. He also suffered a concussion in Week 5 that sidelined him through Week 8.
It’s unclear if the Saints would have turned to Hill sooner if he was healthy. Siemian was doing a decent job during his first couple weeks in the role. But the Saints offense has regressed with each passing week — due in part to the spate of injuries.
Hill’s role with the Saints has been fascinating since they first claimed him off waivers from the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted rookie out of BYU in 2017. The 6-foot-2, 221-pounder started playing a key role on special teams that season. Then he developed into a valuable offensive playmaker in his multiple roles over the years, with Payton insisting that he had the potential to become Brees’ long-term heir.
Hill completed 71.9% of his passes during his four-game starting stint for 834 yards, 4 TDs and 2 interceptions. He ran the ball 39 times for 209 yards and 4 touchdowns. But he also lost three fumbles during that stretch and struggled with holding onto the ball too long when he got past his early reads or the pocket broke down.
Hill has had a quiet season so far this season. He is 7-of-8 passing for 56 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He has run the ball 20 times for 104 yards and 3 TDs. And he has 4 catches for 52 yards.
For his career, Hill is 101-of-142 passing (71.1%) for 1,103 yards, 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He has run the ball 171 times for 913 yards (5.3 yards per attempt) and 14 touchdowns. And he has 34 catches for 388 yards and 7 TDs.