For many Jets, the 2012 season is a new beginning, and that all starts in Cortland, with the team now less than two weeks away from their first preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill (left), the Jets’ 2nd-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, is trying to establish himself in his first NFL training camp, and on Friday he introduced himself in a big way.
Matched up against All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, the 21-year-old Hill flashed some of that sky-high potential that has the Jets licking their chops thinking about how high a ceiling the young man has.
On the very first play of 11-on-11 drills, Mark Sanchez challenged Revis right away, lofting a deep ball Hill’s way right into the teeth of Revis Island, only to see Hill come down with it on a spectacular juggling catch.
“Basically I saw the way [Revis] was playing me and I just tried to box him out to make the catch as much as I could,” Hill said. “Oh, yeah, definitely it was exciting. That was my first play of training camp!”
So did the ultra-competitive Revis have any kudos for the young Hill?
“Yeah,” Hill said, “[Revis] said, ‘Good catch. Next time you ain’t going to get it.’”
Stephen Hill’s size, speed and athleticism are second to none in Jets camp, and the coaches are trying to get him as many reps as possible to see how fast the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket can pick up a pro-style offense.
At Georgia Tech, Hill was not in a very intricate passing offense, so the Jets need him to translate his raw athleticism into production in a pro-style offense, something that they hope he’s capable of right away as a rookie.
Jets coach Rex Ryan was impressed with Hill’s first day on the job, but not just for escaping Revis Island on a big play, but also for his run blocking, which could be his most pro-ready skill.
“The most impressive thing today, there was the catch over Revis even though Revis had great coverage,” Ryan said. “But on a running play, I saw a block and I saw a corner go down.”
Ryan smiled and admitted Revis was the corner he was referring to, though Hill downplayed it as him just being able to throw in a timely shove as the perennial Pro Bowler Revis was losing his balance.
“I guess with that Georgia Tech background, he probably played with a full-cage facemask,” Ryan said. “He’s impressive … Really, he’s been impressive.”
Hill is not letting the hype get to his head, however. Just a pup by NFL standards, he said he still sees himself as “a little raw” and right now he’s just trying to absorb as much as he can and learn from it.
As the veteran of the receiving corps now, Santonio Holmes has been mentoring his fellow wideouts, and cornerbacks Revis and Antonio Cromartie are giving Hill tips, too.
“Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes, they’re staying in my ear a lot,” Hill said. “Even Cromartie and Revis are helping me out with little things they’re seeing.”
There have been rumors about Cromartie possibly seeing some snaps at wide receiver himself, but I think the Jets would much rather see the rookie Hill step up and take the reigns as their starting receiver opposite Holmes.
Of course, excitement on the first day of training camp should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s still July, and teams have a long way to go as they prepare for the start of games that matter in September.
However, there’s nothing wrong with having some optimism when rookie shows some flashes of brilliance. It certainly was a nice way to make a first impression, that’s for sure.
Stephen Hill has a chance to be a special player if he puts it all together, and we’re a long way away from knowing exactly what he’s capable of. But Friday in Cortland was a nice first step, of hopefully many more to come.