As a football player, Stephen Hill says he's spent this offseason growing. But physically, the Jets wide receiver is still growing too.
The wide receiver looked to be improving during last season's training camp after a rookie season marred by mistakes and dropped passes. He was drafted as a raw wide receiver out of an option offense at Georgia Tech, and he was supposed to grow by leaps and bounds in his second season. But the results were mixed for Hill.
Part of the problem was a knee injury which ended his season after his strong start.
“I've been working hard this offseason — working hard to make sure I stay healthy, getting my legs stronger, squatting more than I have in two years now,” Hill told Metro. “It's getting better. [I'm] just happy to be back here, getting back to OTAs.
“Basically it's just a learning curve. Learning, you know, during my rookie season, having so much on my plate. I really didn't know much. Last year, the learning curve, it helped me out a lot. Being out here especially with [offensive coordinator] Marty Mornhinweg and [wide receivers] coach Sanjay [Lal], they stay on me like two mad dogs.”
Due to last year ending with a whimper, it is easy to think Hill regressed in his second season. But in the first three games of 2013, he had 13 receptions for 233 yards and a touchdown. Then, his form tapered off, including a three-game stretch during the middle of the year where he was booed and criticized by Jets fans for failing to register one catch.
Of course, during that three-game drought he also wasn't targeted.
But even though he went through a down stretch and ended the season early with a knee injury, Hill still registered more catches and receiving yards in 2013 than during his rookie year.
Now he heads into this pivotal offseason needing to prove himself again. He has spendt the past few months getting stronger and rehabbing, but also improving his technique. He didn't drop many passes last year but he struggled to find separation against elite cornerbacks.
Hill's grown as a player, but literally as well.
“Well physically, I grew an inch-and-a-half the past few months,” Hill said. “I am just 23. I was 6-foot-3 and some change. Now [I am] over 6-foot-4 — definitely added some muscle as well.”
There will be pressure on him, especially with whispers that he might not even make the team. The Jets brought in a marquee wide receiver in Eric Decker via free agency and added veteran Jacoby Ford. They also selected three wide receivers in the NFL Draft.
“It makes me come out there and get better,” Hill said. “There's a lot of competition coming out there. These guys are pretty good wide receivers. That's not my problem. I'm just coming out there to do what I got to do to make the team.
“I can't play like Eric Decker, I can only play like Stephen Hill.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.