Jets WR Stephen Hill has starting job in his sights

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpiRobert Sabo/New York Daily News Stephen Hill could be playing for a starting spot when the Jets face the Bengals on Saturday.

Some training camp competitions never really happened (spoiler alert: Geno Smith will start at QB for the Jets come Week 1), but the battle for the second outside receiver spot looks no closer to being settled than it was before the team set off for Cortland a few weeks ago. As the Jets enter their second preseason game against the Bengals in Cincinnati Saturday, the two primary candidates for the job — David Nelson and Stephen Hill — have yet to play particularly well or separate from one another.

“If somebody jumps out and puts on a Victor Cruz-performance like he did against us in that preseason game, I’ll definitely sign up for that,” Rex Ryan said this week.

The ideal candidate would be Hill: his speed, size and pedigree are an indication of his potential, the upside the team thought they were getting when he was drafted in the second round in 2012. Since then, however, it’s been almost all disappointment.

He’s occasionally been a rock star in August but barely qualifies as an opening act in the regular season. Through his first two seasons in the league, Hill has not provided the return on investment the team was hoping for: 45 receptions for 594 yards and four touchdowns over the course of two years.

The fans’ impatience with Hill is palpable. Hill claims he’s indifferent toward his doubters, though it doesn’t exactly sound like it.

“Honestly I could give three-,” Hill said, before cutting himself off. “I could care less about what they think. Nothing what they say bothers me. I listen to (John Idzik), I listen to coach Sanjay (Lal) and I listen to Rex (Ryan) and Marty Mornhinweg. That’s the only people I listen to.”

“Other than that, fans, I could care less what they say,” he said. “I enjoy that they come to the games and cheer us on, but if they have anything negative to say…I don’t care.”

But despite poor showings in 2012 and 2013 and a rocky training camp, Hill is still very much in the mix to be a starting outside receiver opposite Eric Decker once the regular season starts. Though his chronic drops issue is still been evident and at times he puts on a Houdini-like disappearing act, like his zero-catch performance against the Colts last week, there is still optimism from the coaching staff about Hill.

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpiRobert Sabo/New York Daily News Dropping passes is an ongoing problem for Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill.

Mornhinweg notably said he had been “outstanding” during training camp — but that is nothing new. Ryan once indicated last season that he didn’t want to jinx the former second-rounder by discussing how well he had been playing. But it didn’t translate to the regular season then.

“The reason for hope is better health, more strength,” wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal said. “From our perspective the reason that camp hasn’t carried forth to the season is injuries.”

Hill has battled health issues throughout his pro career and ended each of his first two seasons on IR with knee injuries. He spent the offseason trying to improve his leg strength through lifting and balance exercises to try and ward off the problems that have plagued him in the past.

Lal said beyond health, the aspects of Hill’s game that he hopes will improve have always been the same: using the advantages he has naturally over cornerbacks.

“If you run a vertical route or even a short route show vertical speed because you have it in you,” Lal said. “Be aggressive at the top because you’re 6-4, 215. Just using what God has given you in every route.”


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