Every training camp has one or two guys who are merely brought in as a roster-filler and camp body, and who end up blossoming into much more. And if safety Will Hill has it his way, he’ll be that next rising star. While wideout Victor Cruz was that guy last year, turning into a multi-media crossover star, Hill’s ascension will likely be more gradual. But if you ask the former Florida Gator about his time in camp so far, he certainly doesn’t lack in confidence.
“Everybody has been a little impressed about my play right now,” Hill said, adding his checkered past is what makes him zone in. “I play with a little bit more oomph behind me [because] I had dark times [and] I know what’s on the other side and I don’t want to go back. … Plus, I haven’t played football in a year. I’ve got a lot built up in me so I’ve been needing to hit somebody.”
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound safety has indeed been hitting guys when allowed in practice and definitely in actual games. The Giants have used him on special teams, but also more importantly in the regular defensive rotation because they like his aggressiveness and the way he flies to the ball.
Head coach Tom Coughlin said he’s seen some good things from Hill and, if he makes the team, can envision using him as a “move around” safety in nickel and dime packages, much like they used Antrel Rolle and the now-departed Deon Grant last season.
“Will Hill has played aggressively in practice and has done the same in games, which I’m glad to see,” Coughlin said. “He’s been in on a lot of plays, especially made plays in blitzes, and when on special teams. … Now, he’s had a couple of spots where he’s been out of position and given up plays on the run but overall he’s done some good things. I’ve been encouraged by what he’s done. He continues to grow as he gets more opportunities. It’d be a nice story for the kid if he can put it all together.”
Prior to his time at Florida, Hill put everything together as he was a standout player at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, N.J. Hill had his pick of any college after excelling at quarterback, running back, receiver, and safety — but shortly after his arrival at Gainesville, the self-assured Hill found trouble.
“It was all about Me, Me, Me,” he said about the troubles that ultimately got him suspended for violating team rules. “Just thinking too highly of myself and thinking, ‘Oh, I am at the top again, nothing can happen to me, and I can do whatever I want.’ And I paid for it.”
As a result, Hill wasn’t drafted in the 2011 NFL Draft and had to settle on playing with the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League. He officially signed as a free agent with the Giants in May and hasn’t yet made the coaching staff regret taking the once-controversial safety.
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“I’m very impressed with Will Hill,” said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. “He’s 30 minutes early for the meetings and when I go into the meeting room, he’s always in there studying. He’s a very athletic young man. This is his second chance so to speak, so he’s being the ultimate pro by the way he is preparing for his opportunity.”
Hill prepped for his second chance by working with former NFL defensive backs Ray Buchanan and Sam Madison, a former Giant, before reporting to camp and the results showed immediately. He was instantly inserted into just about every special teams unit — and has now started to earn the trust of his coaches to play a larger role on defense as the first name called to backup starters Rolle and Kenny Philips.
“Will is a guy that we all see his athletic ability,” said safeties coach Dave Merritt. “This kid has speed, quickness, burst and acceleration. And this young man has all the tools that you want as a defensive back. The thing that Will is going to have learn is the playbook — the details of the details. He has a long way to go [but] right now, he’s displaying the talents that we need.”
Fewell has a knack of putting guys in position to succeed and not ask them to do anything above their means. And with Hill’s considerable physical talents, Fewell thinks he found a niche for Hill, as the “Rover” of the secondary — someone able to fly around as a free safety but also play close to the line of scrimmage as a quasi-linebacker in nickel defense.
Hill said he enjoys Fewell’s scheme because it’s similar to what he did during his time at Florida.
“I like it a lot [because] when I came in at Florida, that [Rover] was the first position I actually played,” Hill said. “So by me coming in here and doing that, they seem similar and I’m already [acclimated] with the position.”
He then added he’s been so manic on the field because it wasn’t too long ago that nobody wanted to take a chance on him.
“My mindset is either kill or be killed because everybody is out here fighting for a job along with me,” Hill said. “I remember how [bad] it was, so it is either do I want that job or not? It is a kill-or-be-killed mentality so I am going to be the killer.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.