Hill Catching on Fast
Tuesday, June 13, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Coming from tiny St. George, S.C, (population about 2,100), rookie cornerback Tye Hill had quite an eye-opening experience upon his arrival to St. Louis and the NFL.

Rams coach Scott Linehan believes that Hill’s early struggles to the adjustment to football’s highest level was directly correlated to the awe that comes with the talent level of his teammates.

“At first he was a little starry eyed,” Linehan said. “He was probably a fan of pro football. Once he got here for a while, he realized this is football and I have to play like I always play.”

At the Rams’ rookie minicamp a month ago, Hill had trouble adjusting to the speed and tempo of an NFL practice. He was noticeably fatigued after his first couple of NFL practices and said he would need to work on his conditioning to be ready to compete with the likes of Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Kevin Curtis.

In the past few weeks, Hill has regained his conditioning through organized team activities and workouts. At this past weekend’s final minicamp, Hill performed at the level he expects of himself.

“I’m well adjusted to the tempo now,” Hill said. “I know now not to listen to what everybody tells you about pro football practices. They may be shorter, but the tempo is a whole lot higher.”

With a burgeoning competition in the Rams’ secondary, Hill knows that every practice, every play and every workout are going to be important for his opportunities to land significant playing time as a rookie.

That’s why Hill can often be found staying behind when practice is over to work on various parts of his game. On Sunday, when the final minicamp practice was over and many Rams were heading home or enjoying the family barbecue, Hill was out on the field working on his ball skills.

Hill has a system of checks and balances for himself in which he punishes himself for any ball he gets his hands on but doesn’t catch. Every time he gets his hands on a ball and doesn’t come up with it, he vows to stay after practice and catch balls to make up for the drops.

It’s that work ethic that has made Hill an instant favorite among the coaching staff.

“He fits right in,” Linehan said. “He’s more and more confident. It’s really interesting when you get confident players around you and you have talent and ability like he does how it can be infectious. I can see the leadership has helped him get past that initial phase.”

As OTA’s wrap up Thursday and the team parts ways until training camp, Hill said he knows the importance of keeping his momentum going. He will likely head home, continue to work out and bury his nose in the defensive playbook.

“I have to study the playbook,” Hill said. “I’ve got to be ready when it’s camp time. I can’t have the mental errors I have been having come camp. I have to be sharp. So, for me I’m going to stay in condition, stay in my playbook and keep working. That’s part of being a first-round pick.”

An important piece of that will be for Hill to arrive to training camp on time and have no missed practice time. That’s one area that Hill isn’t worried about.

“I want to be in with the team,” Hill said. “I don’t think there will be a holdout. I have a good agent that will handle all of that. They will probably start on it next month from what I’ve been told.”

Helping Hill along the way has been the camaraderie he has built with some of the veterans on the team. It would be easy for the likes of Holt and Bruce to ignore or abuse the rookie corner, but so far they have done nothing but encourage Hill with advice and instruction.

“The only thing they say to me is encouraging words,” Hill said. “My expectation level is going to be higher than a seventh rounder or undrafted free agents. That’s why I try to keep working when nobody is even watching.”

Although the competition at cornerback is expected to be heated as the likes of Jerametrius Butler, Travis Fisher, DeJuan Groce, Dwight Anderson, Fakhir Brown and Ron Bartell will all be angling for jobs, Hill said the competition will only help.

And while it’s too early to know how that competition will shake out, it seems that so far, everyone has the common goal of winning in mind.

“Me and Tye talk a lot,” Bartell said. “I think he is adjusting pretty well for a rookie. He’s going through some of the same stuff I went through last year. His head is spinning a little bit, but I think things are starting to slow down a little bit.”