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Niners' Hill knows what rookie WRs face

8/28/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Josh Morgan, the 49ers' promising rookie receiver, keeps earning high praise for his big-play ability. Morgan has averaged 20.2 yards per reception during the exhibition season, but another young receiver has quietly posted an even better average: Jason Hill, at 21.0.

We compare preseason stats at our own peril, of course, but Hill has caught the 49ers' attention in other ways this summer. He appears smoother in his route running and more confident overall. And with seven catches for 147 yards and a touchdown, he has produced through three exhibition games.

The 49ers' injury situation at receiver suggests Hill will get some meaningful playing time in spurts this season. He is not naturally outgoing, and his position coach, Jerry Sullivan, is known as a demanding perfectionist. The combination was tough for Hill as a rookie, but the 2007 third-round choice from Washington State seems to be fitting in better. He is also part of the 49ers' special-teams coverage units, enhancing his value on game days.

I caught up with Hill last week. He knows too well the challenges receivers face trying to contribute as rookies. A short transcript from our conversation follows.

Sando: Your route running appears improved.

Jason Hill: Just feeling more comfortable, comfortable in the offense, comfortable in my skin.

Sando: More comfortable in your skin. What does that mean?

JH: Just being a rookie, it was tough last year. Not really knowing the game, how you need to know the game at this level. You get uncomfortable sometimes, you get outside of yourself and I'm not starting to do that as much.

Sando: What do you mean by getting outside yourself?

JH: Last year, I was afraid to make mistakes and you become afraid to get the finger pointed at you. Sometimes that is the way you learn.

Sando: Are you making fewer mistakes?

JH: I still make plenty, but I fight through it. The next play is always the most important one. That is where I think I'm turning a lot of heads. When you make mistakes, you have to bounce back. I'm learning to bounce back.

Sando: Morgan has earned lots of attention. How is that affecting you?

JH: I'm just playing my game. The ball comes my way, it comes my way. If it comes his way, he has to make a play, too. My time will come. That is part of football.