After an underwhelming rookie season, wide receiver Stephen Hill returns to the Jets this training camp with a newfound confidence. But it remains to be seen if it will show on the field.
Last year, Hill came to the Jets as a second-round pick with tremendous measurables and plenty of upside. He was tall and powerfully built with a long stride and big hands. But he was raw, and having played in an option offense at Georgia Tech, his opportunities to catch the ball were few and far between. Understandably, his route running was subpar and Hill endured a mediocre rookie season beset by injuries.
Hill played 11 games as he battled a chronic hamstring injury and had just 21 catches. He was targeted 47 times.
“I’m definitely better than last year but I definitely have a lot more to clean up and a lot more experience to go through,” Hill said. “Other than that, I’m taking it day by day. [I am] making sure that everything I’m working on, I don’t worry about the next play, I just worry about that one play.”
His strength last year was always his downfield blocking, not surprising since he did plenty of that in college. But the rest of his game needed desperately to be refined. Then there were all the dropped passes.
The Jets need a target wide receiver for the future and while they recently signed Braylon Edwards, it is Hill who should be the player to catch the deep ball or be a strong target on third down. He’s gone so far as to say that even when Santonio Holmes returns from his Lisfranc injury, he wants to be the team’s No. 1 wide receiver.
For a player with 21 career receptions, that is bold talk. For the first time in his young career, however, he seems to be backing it up.
On Saturday in the Green and White scrimmage, Hill muscled off a challenge from cornerback Ellis Lankster for a long touchdown catch from Mark Sanchez. It was the kind of play Hill might not have made last year.
“That’s just competition. Basically, Ellis got in my way and so we both were fighting for the ball,” Hill said. “If I pushed off, there wasn’t a flag on the play, so it was a touchdown. So I was just happy for that.”
Last year, Hill was often shown up by much shorter cornerbacks and safeties who frequently made plays over a wide receiver who towered over nearly every defensive player on the field. One noticeable change during training camp is that he is getting up much better and attacking the ball.
“I noticed even in OTAs [organized team activities] I was letting balls come down to me,” Hill said. “Coach always said go up and get the ball. You’re big — 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 — go up and attack it like you’re playing basketball.”
“It’s just making sure I pinpoint the ball at the right time and making sure that I make the correct jump. Not jump too early, not jump too late.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for updates from training camp.