Hill's goal: Pro Bowl in two years


BY JEFF GORDON
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
07/31/2006


Rookie Rams cornerback Tye Hill went to school bright and early Monday morning at Rams Park.

During his first training camp session in the NFL, he found himself across the line of scrimmage from receiver Torry Holt. So how did that go?

“Well, he got me,” Hill said. “He got me a few times today.”

Those things happen. “He’s a Pro Bowler,” Hill said. “He’s going into the Hall of Fame. Playing against him will only make me better. He is one of the best receivers in the league. I have to crawl before I can walk.”


Still, Hill hopes to accelerate those lessons. He doesn’t make allowances for his inexperience. “I feel like I don’t want to be a rookie,” he said.

He also doesn’t want to be average. “I’m trying to be a Pro Bowler in two years,” Hill said. “That’s the truth.”

Rams coach Scott Linehan appreciates that ambition. Cornerback was a critical weakness for this team last season. Injuries decimated the group.

The survivors were equally bad against the pass and run. They didn’t make a lot of big plays and often failed to make the routine plays, too.

That is why the Rams drafted Hill in the first round of the NFL Draft. They took a pass on quarterback Jay Cutler, electing to trade down in the first round and take Hill to fill a defensive need instead.

Hill lacks the ranginess of a prototypical “shutdown” corner, but he has tremendous speed and competitive spirit. He can’t stand getting beat.

He and another newcomer, free agent Fakhir Brown, are expected to press injury-plagued incumbents Travis Fisher and Jerametrius Butler for playing time.

Then there is second-year player Ron Bartell, a bigger defensive back who played safety and cornerback in college. The Rams drafted him as a cornerback last season, but he moved to safety during this training camp and could back up at both spots this season.

Veterans DeJuan Groce and Dwight Anderson will have to fight for roster spots if everybody stays healthy. The competition at this position is among the best -– and most important -– battles of this training camp.

“We’re going to play the best 11,” Linehan said. “Everybody knows that.”

Getting Hill signed and onto the practice field was a big step in this competition. He impressed the Rams with his work ethic during the offseason, but he couldn’t afford to miss much camp time while negotiating his first contract.

We’ve all seen what happened to other Rams prospects that arrived late in training camp due to their contract squabbles. Some never got on track during their rookie season. So Linehan has happy to have Hill on the field Monday.

“He did just fine,” Linehan said. “But he has a lot of things to get done.”

The “to do” lists includes: Mastering Jim Haslett’s defensive scheme, getting into “football” shape, improving his tackling and coverage techniques and learning the nuances of game preparation at the pro level. He stayed late Monday to catch some footballs and there is some extra conditioning work on his schedule.

“The first day, basically I was just trying to get my feet under me,” Hill said. “I have no problems with the defense. It’s more just battling the heat. I’ve been running, but you can’t get prepared for the heat.

“I didn’t want to have any mental errors. I don’t think I did. I just wanted to get back in my stances, get ready to play.”

Hill certainly didn’t look out of place at Rams Park. Which is more than we could say for some of those poor guys that filled in last season . . .