Sunday, December 22, 2013
Hill is vital, volatile part of Giants' future
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
DETROIT -- Will Hill had a very interesting weekend, which isn't really surprising, because the New York Giants' young safety leads a very interesting life. Too interesting, at times, for his own peace and comfort.
Sunday night, Hill made the play of the game for the Giants, intercepting a Matthew Stafford pass and returning it 38 yards for a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Giants would go on to win 23-20 in overtime.
According to multiple reports, about 48 hours before that play, Hill was arrested on charges related to child support payments. Hill has four children by three women. The Giants knew of the arrest but decided it was a personal matter that didn't require discipline, so they did not suspend or bench him for Sunday's game.
"We support him in every way we can," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's trying like heck to meet all of his responsibilities. It is a private matter, and that's something he's taken care of."
It's good that the Giants support their player. He's 23 years old and has a lot going on in his life. He's also a whale of a football player, and the very interesting weekend he just had sums up his status as an important but volatile part of the Giants' future.
Hill gets in trouble off the field. He was suspended while at the University of Florida for getting caught with marijuana. He drew attention for a Twitter feed on which he published repeated references to drug use and prostitution (later claiming he was hacked). Character concerns pushed him all the way out of the 2011 NFL draft, and he went to play in the Arena League before the Giants signed him prior to the 2012 season.
He was suspended four games last year for violating the NFL's drug policy, and he missed the first four games of this season for a second violation.
Again, he is just 23 years old. He almost hasn't had enough time to get into that amount of trouble. Yet he has, and the Giants are well aware that his next drug violation likely gets him suspended for a year. Just as they're aware that his off-field responsibilities to various women and children could distract him. They are aware, and they want to help.
"It means the world to me to have a coach and a staff and a team that's going to back me in any situation," Hill said after Sunday's game.
It helps that he can play. Hill is the best player in the Giants' secondary when he's on the field, and he showed that again Sunday. On the play that tied the game, the Giants were in a Cover 4 defense where Hill had support responsibility for fellow safety Antrel Rolle as well as a linebacker and a cornerback. It was third-and-7 from the Lions' 22-yard line, and Stafford fired a pass in the direction of tight end Joseph Fauria. The ball was tipped in the air and Hill saw it.
"As soon as that ball was tipped," he said, "all I saw was daylight."
He knew for a fact he'd run it all the way to the end zone, because he possesses the confidence that comes with supreme talent. It's also fair to suspect that the football field is where Hill feels the most in control and at peace, given everything he apparently has to deal with when he's away from it.
Will Hill's pick-six was the play of the game.
"It hasn't been a tough weekend for me," he insisted. "It's just about coming out here, focusing on football and helping our team get a win."
Which he did, as much as anyone did. The Giants knew when they signed Hill that he had the kind of talent that could decide games. That talent was worth taking on the baggage, since they believed themselves to be deep at safety and figured they were covered if Hill didn't work out.
Now, though, he has played himself into an extraordinarily valuable position as one of their starting safeties. They face a dilemma with Rolle this offseason, as they likely can't afford to take him back at his $9.25 million cap cost next season and aren't sure he'll accept a pay cut or what it would take to extend him beyond 2014. If they have to part company with Rolle, then with Stevie Brown coming off ACL surgery Hill becomes the closest thing they have to a sure thing at safety. And Hill is never going to be a sure thing.
Sunday for the Giants offered a look at some things that could end up mattering in 2014 and beyond. Jerrel Jernigan as a more useful weapon at wide receiver than you may have thought. Prince Amukamara as the type of cornerback the team trusts to "shadow" the opponent's star receiver. Hill as the kind of safety who can find the ball and make a key play.
The end of this season is about looking ahead for the Giants. When they look ahead with Hill, they see potential for great things along with potential for trouble. Hill had a very interesting weekend, and it's not likely to be the last.