The exploration of becoming more effective on kick returns under the NFL's new rules appears to have led the New Orleans Saints to the discovery of a backup quarterback in their 21-18 victory over Cleveland who's capable of being an impactful returner.
Taysom Hill fielded three touchbacks before, with 6:43 left in the third quarter and the Saints' trailing 12-3 after a Cleveland touchdown, he fielded Zane Gonzalez's kickoff seven yards deep in the end zone. From there, Hill brought the kick out and found a seam on the right side.
After a 47-yard sprint, the Saints set up at their 40-yard line.
Hill, one of the most physically imposing returners in the league – 6 feet 2, 221 pounds – had done the job, and then some.
"He can run and he can run with a physical presence," Coach Sean Payton said Monday morning in a teleconference with local media. "So it's a different type of returner."
Hill, who has shown value on special teams as a punt protector, in coverage on punts and kickoffs and as a possible holder for kicker Wil Lutz, added another job to his duty list. And he could be a long-term solution.
"The rule change is significant and I think half of it is, you get into these man-to-man situations, and if your players believe and have confidence in a scheme and each guy focuses on their individual job, then you give yourself a chance to have success," Payton said.
"To (special teams coach) Mike (Westhoff) and his staff and the units, I think there's a strong belief that each time we're back to receive a kick – the one we returned yesterday was seven yards deep in the end zone – but we look at it as an offensive play. And I think there's a confidence element that's emerged there."
Overall, Payton sounded pleased with the results from special teams Sunday.
"We had the big return later in the game from Taysom," he said. "We came close to blocking a handful of their field goals and even one punt."
Payton's assessment of the defense and offense, after a look at the film, didn't much deviate from Sunday's summary in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"Defensively, I thought we were real good until the final two drives," he said. "Obviously, the big touchdown pass (a 47-yarder, on fourth-and-5, with 1:16 left) and the end-of-game sequence was poor.
"And then offensively, we weren't very good. We were sloppy in the beginning, too many mental errors, missed opportunities and then the two turnovers – that's twice now, last week and this week, where ball security has been an issue."