- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill is on notice. After two lackluster seasons and knee issues in each year, Hill has been surrounded by draft picks and free agents this year. It’s a clear message, and Hill doesn’t even presume to be a starter anymore.
“I consider myself as getting the job done,” Hill said. “So whenever coach feels like I need to be a starter or if he feels I don’t need to be one, it’s on him.”
Asked to detail some of Hill’s positive attributes, Jets coach Rex Ryan complied, but he only went so far before becoming realistic about Hill’s future.
“He’s got more experience so I think that’s going to help, obviously,” Ryan said. “I think he feels healthy so that’s positive, but he knows there’s nothing given. Nothing’s assured with guys' roles now, so he knows the competition’s on.”
The third-year player went down to Florida to work with quarterback Geno Smith during the offseason to hone their chemistry. Hill is still getting reps with the first team as the Jets' mandatory minicamp opened today, and he’s looked good during the spring. The issue with Hill, aside from a few high-profile dropped balls, has been fluid in his knee which has restricted his movement.
Hill didn’t have surgery this offseason, but said he spent the offseason strengthening the muscles around his knees and doesn’t expect the issue to reappear. It was Hill’s left knee last year, and both knees his rookie year. In both seasons, Hill was placed on the injured reserve because of knee injuries.
“My knee actually feels better than it did last year,” Hill said. “Because last year I didn’t take a lot of OTA reps and I went all through OTAs and now minicamp, so right now I feel strictly 100 percent.”
This year the Jets have options at wide receiver, more options than they have had in the past. Eric Decker was brought over from the Broncos and Jacoby Ford from Oakland, Jalen Saunders, Shaquelle Evens and Quincy Enunwa were drafted. Add to the group returners like Jeremy Kerley, David Nelson and Clyde Gates -- plus Saalim Hakim, Greg Salas and Michael Campbell -- and the position looks crowded.
“I think it’s a deep receiving group, as deep as we’ve had here in a long time,” Ryan said. “We’ll see the quality of that group as time goes on, but I think there is some quality there and it’s fairly deep ... Guys are fighting for reps and the [competition] should be really good, and you hope at the end of the day we come out of it with six or so really good receivers.”
Last year Hill had 24 catches for 342 yards and a touchdown. It was up from his rookie season, when he had 21 catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns. He has played in 23 total games.
All the while, Hill has heard increasing criticism from fans who think taking him in the second round of the 2012 draft hasn’t paid off.
“I don’t care what anybody says,” Hill said. “The only people I need to prove it to are the coaches and myself.”
Hill said he doesn’t read the criticism.
“Coming from Georgia Tech you have stuff like that,” Hill said. “Coming out of high school you have the same thing. Whatever people say that’s their opinion. But I got to go out there and run the routes, catch the ball it’s all on me. I’m basically my biggest critic.”