By Bill Coats
Sunday, Sep. 10 2006

When Tye Hill throws a draft party, he throws a draft party.

Hill invited his entire hometown to gather with him last April 29, and a good
portion of the population showed up. "If it wasn't the whole town, it was most
of it," Hill said. "I wouldn't share that day with anybody else but my family
and friends and people of my town."

Understand that St. George, S.C., has only 2,100 residents. And that Hill,
selected by the Rams with the 15th overall selection in the draft, is the
three-stoplight town's first homegrown professional athlete. So, the excitement
was understandable, even before he signed a five-year contract that could net
him as much as $12.6 million.

Sunday figures to be another big day in the "low country," as the locals refer
to that part of the state between Charleston and Columbia. Hill will get his
first taste of NFL regular-season action when the Rams play Denver at the
Edward Jones Dome.

"It's going to be a packed house, and emotions are going to be high," Hill
said. "I feed off the crowd, so I know how I'm going to feel. I'm going to have
to calm myself down."

Hill, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound cornerback from Clemson, won't start against the
Broncos, but he'll be busy enough. Hill will back up Travis Fisher on the left
side, plus he'll come in as the fifth defensive back in passing situations.

Secondary coach Willy Robinson said Hill's transition to pro football remains a
work in progress.

"Game awareness, route recognition, formation recognition ... all those little
things that happen so much faster at this level than at the college level,"
Robinson said. "Travis Fisher and Fakhir Brown (the other first-team corner)
really are doing a great job silently, leadership-wise, with that kid in
staying on top of him."

Fisher, recalling the help he received as a rookie from Aeneas Williams, has
been a constant mentor for Hill. "Tye's a competitor, so that's not a problem,"
Fisher said. "He's really catching on to what it takes to be a professional and
how to approach practice and be serious about it."

Hill, a former Atlantic Coast Conference 60-meter champion, acknowledged that
at Clemson, he could make up for technique errors with speed and athleticism.
But that ability prompted some bad habits, too.

"In college, if you're good, you kind of separate yourself from the rest of the
competition," said Hill, 24. "Therefore, you don't really have to work as hard,
and sometimes you kind of get lackadaisical. ... Here, everybody is good, from
first-stringers to fifth-stringers. The competition level never dies, no matter
who's in there."

Let down in the NFL, he concluded, and you're sure to get burned.

Hill struggled early with the Rams. Expecting "more of a walk-through type of
thing," he said he "thought my lungs were going to explode" after his first
minicamp practice. In training camp, he was implored to get more physical with
opponents and improve his tackling.

"He's got to work to keep his hands on receivers," Robinson said. "It's not a
run-and-bump type technique for us as much as it is getting people re-routed."

Asked to evaluate his preseason, Hill said: "There was some good and there was
some bad. It's a learning experience, definitely. I got a lot of work in, and
I've got a lot to work on. But I'm very comfortable."

And extremely pleased that the regular season finally has arrived.

"Oh, yeah, I've been happy since we broke camp," Hill said, laughing. "I'm just
not a camp guy. I don't think anybody really likes it, but I get into a little
more of a depressed mode when it comes around. I'm ready for opening day."

Although the Broncos' ground game is the Rams' major concern defensively,
Denver can do damage through the air, too. Quarterback Jake Plummer's primary
targets are veteran Rod Smith and ex-Packer Javon Walker.

"To go up against them in the first game ... Rod Smith, he's probably going to
be a Hall of Famer," Hill said. "It's not Kansas anymore. I've got to be on my
P's and Q's. ... In the NFL, every down counts. When you think nothing is
happening, that's when the band strikes up. I've learned that."

As a rookie cornerback and a slightly undersized one at that, Hill realizes
that Denver coach Mike Shanahan will challenge him. "People are going to run at
a corner that's not necessarily got the size; you're going to get tested
there," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "So he's got to show that he's willing
to come up and make tackles."

And not let one misstep lead to another. Hill has been working on developing
that mantra.

"You've got to be able to bounce back," he said. "You mess up ... hey, don't
let it affect the next play. That's one thing I'm getting better at."

Actually, Fisher pointed out, Hill has made strides in several areas. "He's
definitely grown," Fisher said. "He's learning the game, doing a great job of
watching the guys that have been in the game for a while. He's picking up real

On Sunday, Hill will begin to find out just how quick. The folks in St. George,
S.C., will be watching closely.