Taysom Hill

New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) calls a play against the New York Giants at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (Staff photo by David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

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METAIRIE, La. - All signs are pointing toward Taysom Hill being the New Orleans Saints starting quarterback against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night.

Though coach Sean Payton declined Tuesday to announce Hill as the starter, saying he wants another day to evaluate a plantar fascia injury that has effectively sidelined Hill the past two weeks, it appears the Saints are counting on Hill being ready to fill that role.

When asked if he’d be ready to play, Hill responded he would.

“I’m feeling a lot better,” Hill said Tuesday. “Obviously I’ve learned a lot about this injury the last little bit. I had a partial (plantar fascia tear), which after learning about it, they said you’d rather have a full tear. So I think that’s been what we’ve been working through in terms of pain management and tolerance. That’s been a challenge.

“I think we’re just getting to a point where I’m dealing with pain and getting to a point where it doesn’t limit functionality.”

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If the Saints do turn to Hill, they do so with the hopes that he can inject some life into an offense that has sputtered as it has lost four straight games since Trevor Siemian replaced the injured Jameis Winston in the starting lineup.

In those four losses, the Saints have averaged about 20 points per game, with much of that output coming when the game was already out of hand.

The past two weeks, Hill has been active only in an emergency capacity, watching the games from sideline in a team-issued hat while he has dealt with the foot injury. He said Tuesday that if he would have played in those games, he would have been limited physically.

He has not appeared in a game since the Saints' Nov. 14 loss at Tennessee, when he felt a pop in his foot as he planted to explode upfield after making a catch.

“You realize how much you miss it, how much the game means to you when you can't be part of it, you can’t be with your teammates out on the field,” Hill said. “The mindset hasn’t changed. I think it’s certainly been a refresher for helping me realize how much this game means to me.”

For much of his career, Hill’s path to the field has been as a utility player in the Saints offense. He’s lined up at every offensive skill position while also serving a valuable role on special teams. But Hill has routinely expressed his desire to prove himself as a starting quarterback.

“There’s nothing like playing quarterback in this league,” Hill said. “Certainly that requires an additional amount of energy and responsibility that you put on yourself through the week and on game day. You have a greater ability to affect the outcome of the game.”

He led the Saints to a 3-1 record during a four-game debut in the role last season and then spent his offseason tailoring his workouts and changing his body in preparation for a training camp battle with Jameis Winston for the starting job. After the Saints named Winston the starter, Hill slid back into his usual role as a multi-purpose offensive weapon.

Hill recorded 77 yards rushing, 37 yards receiving and 12 yards passing in his first five games before suffering a concussion in the Saints’ Oct. 10 win against the Washington Football Team.

Following that injury, he did not appear again in a Saints game or practice until Nov. 3. In total, Hill missed two games with his concussion, the first two games he’s missed because of injury in his NFL career.

The Saints quarterback job belonged to Siemian for most of the past five weeks. Siemian stepped in for the injured Jameis Winston in the first quarter of the Saints’ 36-27 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leading the offense to five scoring drives.

But Siemian has struggled since then, and the rest of the Saints offense has followed suit.

In four starts, Siemian completed 61 of his 144 pass attempts (57.6%) for 924 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions and one lost fumble, which adds up to a respectable 86.7 passer rating.

But much of Siemian's production has come late in games while the Saints have been digging themselves out of massive holes. New Orleans opened the fourth quarter of Siemian's four starts facing deficits of 18, 11, 20 and 24 points.

The Saints hit a low point last week against the Buffalo Bills, when they were shut out through three quarters before ultimately falling 31-6.

In his four starts at quarterback last season, Hill completed 71.9% of his passes with four touchdowns and a 96.2 rating. He added 209 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

The Saints recently signed Hill to a new four year, $40 million extension that could be worth up to $95 million if he earns the starting quarterback job and hits certain performance-based escalators.

“It’s comforting, a nice little security blanket,” Hill said. “We play a brutal sport and this year has been a little bit unique for me in having the games I missed with a concussion and now this (foot injury). So it’s nice to have the program backing you with the way the Saints have.

“Getting a new contract and knowing I’m going to be here for a few years is really nice. I certainly didn’t want to go anywhere else.”

This article originally ran on ktbs.com.

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