NFL Nation: Stephen Hill

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Wide receiver Stephen Hill remains under consideration to be called up from the Carolina Panthers' practice squad for Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game at Seattle if Philly Brown can't play.

Brown returned to practice for Thursday's walk-through inside the Charlotte Convention Center, where the Panthers moved to as temperatures outside hovered around 13 degrees.

It was the undrafted rookie's first practice after injuring his shoulder in Saturday's 27-16 wild-card win against Arizona.

Brown said he wasn't in much pain or restricted in his motion, and said he could be ready for Saturday. The big test will come on Friday when the Panthers put him through more physical drills.

"At the end of the day it comes down to what coach thinks is best for us and not making this a worse injury than it has to be," Brown said.

If Brown can't go, Hill could be the solution for Carolina as it tries to replace its speed receiver. Hill worked some with the first-team offense in practice and was scheduled to fly with the team to Seattle on Thursday afternoon.

The former second-round draft pick was released by the New York Jets at the end of training camp after what was considered two failed seasons. Carolina picked him up after he cleared waivers, and he has been on the practice squad since.

"He's been great," Rivera said. "He really has. He understands what his role and situation is right now. He's got an opportunity to take a step back and look and understand."

The knock on Hill with the Jets was dropped passes.

"I guess that's always been the thing," Rivera said. "He's been really good for us."

Other than Brown, the Panthers are in good shape physically outside of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who underwent surgery on Wednesday to repair a fractured foot.

Backup cornerback Melvin White (ankle) was listed as a full participant in practice and backup free safety Thomas DeCoud (hamstring) was limited. If neither is able to play, Rivera said he's confident in James Dockery and Robert Lester as backups.

The Panthers will arrive in Seattle around 9 p.m. PT. They will go through a morning walk-through at an indoor facility.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When will wide receiver Stephen Hill be called up from the Carolina Panthers practice squad?

That has been one of the more asked questions in Charlotte since the Panthers signed the second-round pick in September after he was released by the New York Jets following a two-year stint.

Well, it could be for Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game at Seattle.

The Panthers are looking for more speed with undrafted rookie Philly Brown unable to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday because of a shoulder injury suffered in Saturday’s playoff victory over Arizona.

Coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday the team “potentially could" pull up a player from the practice squad. When asked if that player would be Hill, he said yes.

Hill is fast. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at the 2012 NFL combine.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be called up. The Panthers also are looking at third-string quarterback Joe Webb, who has moved back to wide receiver this week.

Webb showed his speed running down Atlanta kick returner Devin Hester in the regular-season finale.

The Panthers also are looking at Brenton Bersin for Brown’s role, although Bersin doesn’t have elite speed. They also could try to find way to get first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin deep.

But Hill is intriguing. He has 45 NFL catches for four touchdowns. There were times during his tenure that he showed flashes, but his reputation for dropping passes also made headlines.

Will Hill finally be called up?

Stay tuned.

Kelvin Benjamin is no Megatron -- yet

September, 10, 2014
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Calvin and Kelvin.

The comparisons are coming.

Carolina Panthers rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin only has one NFL game on his résumé -- six catches for 92 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown in Sunday's 20-14 victory over Tampa Bay. Yet it already seems inevitable, people wondering if he's the next Calvin Johnson, who will be on the opposite sideline Sunday in Charlotte.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackMegatron comparisons might be premature, but Kelvin Benjamin showed a lot of promise in his NFL debut.
Sizewise, there are similarities. Benjamin is 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds. Johnson, the Detroit Lions' star, is 6-5, 236. Both have big hands and rare athletic ability.

But as Johnson again showed on Monday night with seven catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-14 victory over the Giants, there's only one Megatron.

"I do expect Benjamin to be more productive as a rookie, and I can see why some would compare the two," said ESPN analyst Matt Williamson, a former scout with the Cleveland Browns. "But to me, they really are not close.

"Johnson was much rawer as a route-runner and overall wide receiver as a rookie compared to Benjamin, who came from a more advanced system in college. They both are big. But Benjamin -- while very talented -- isn't in the same ballpark as Johnson."

Johnson racked up 329 receiving yards in one game against Dallas last season, but his NFL debut in 2007 was much like Benjamin's -- four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. He finished his season with 48 catches for 756 yards and four touchdowns.

He didn't establish himself as a dominant receiver until his second season, when he caught 78 passes for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Benjamin, 23, has a chance to put up bigger number earlier because he's on a team where he's easily the top wide receiver and he has a Pro Bowl quarterback in Cam Newton.

Johnson played on a team with 2004 first-round pick Roy Williams, Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey, each with 61 or more catches in 2007. Journeyman Jon Kitna was the quarterback.

Regardless, Lions coach Jim Caldwell doesn't want to get into comparing Benjamin to the younger version of Johnson, who is still just 28.

"I can tell you he's big," Caldwell said of Benjamin. "He's got [big] hands and we took a real good look at him, obviously, in the draft.

"He can play. He's spirited. Got a lot of fight in him. He'll be difficult to handle, but in a different way. Calvin Johnson's different than Benjamin. Different guy. Different skill set."

The skill set may be different, but Benjamin will help prepare the Panthers for Johnson. Panthers practice-squad players Marcus Lucas and Stephen Hill, both 6-4, will also be important to the team's preparation.

"It's good because our corners will work against [these players]," coach Ron Rivera said. "Not quite Calvin Johnson's size, but they're big. And we just got through playing against two very good ones that are big guys as well."

Tampa Bay rookie Mike Evans is 6-5, 231. Ten-year veteran Vincent Jackson is 6-5, 230. Evans had five catches for 37 yards and Jackson four for 36. Carolina kept both from getting off the line fast and tackled them immediately after the catch.

But neither is in Johnson's league.

"He's a force, and he can change a game in a hurry," Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said of Johnson. "He plays above-the-rim football. The good thing for us is we have some long corners that gives ourselves a chance in the same way to play above the rim."

Starting corners Antoine Cason and Melvin White are both 6-1. They agree working against Benjamin has helped prepare them for this week's challenge.

"There's definitely some similarities with the body type, being a big guy and being physical and being able to catch the ball well," said Cason, who had a team-best nine tackles and an interception against the Bucs. "That is definitely something that can help us through week."

Johnson isn't Carolina's only concern. Matthew Stafford can also throw to wide receiver Golden Tate or running back Reggie Bush.

"They've got a lot of weapons that will probably keep me up most of the week," McDermott said.

None will keep him up more than Johnson. Benjamin hasn't reached that level of sleep loss for opposing coordinators -- yet.

"Honestly, comparing anyone to Calvin Johnson is just not fair," Williamson said. "He is much more explosive and faster than Benjamin. Better ball skills and body control. Much better route-runner.

"Johnson might be the rarest and most talented wide receiver to ever play the game."

How long before Panthers bring Hill up?

September, 4, 2014
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- While Stephen Hill was blaming New York media for getting cut by the Jets, media covering the Carolina Panthers debated how long it would take the wide receiver to be activated to the 53-man roster.

Popular opinion? It won't be long.

 The Panthers signed the Jets' 2012 second-round pick to the practice squad on Tuesday. Practice squads typically are filled by undrafted players, not the 43rd overall selection.

To Hill's credit, he has taken the demotion well.

"It's just a step back, but I can take some more steps forward," he said Wednesday. "I'm just going to take this and run with it. I'm ready to try my best to get on that 53-man roster."

The Panthers were familiar with the former Georgia Tech star long before he was cut. They used one of their 30 visits for draft-eligible players to work him out in Charlotte two years ago.

What's not to like? At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Hill has all the physical attributes Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman looks for. Hill is also fast. His 4.36 time in the 40-yard dash tied for the fastest among wide receivers at the 2012 combine.

If there's one thing Carolina's rebuilt wide-receiver corps lacks, it's elite speed.

Hill's issue in New York was inconsistency. To be specific, he dropped too many passes.

Hill was quick to remind there are receivers on other NFL rosters with more drops than him. Count Brandon LaFell, Carolina's No. 2 receiver last season and now a member of the New England Patriots, among those.

LaFell had a team-best eight drops last season and 15 in four years.

Hill's agent, Alan Herman, said his client didn't get a fair shake in New York, saying the inconsistencies the team had at quarterback were the biggest issue. Hill didn't blame the quarterbacks as much as he did the media.

He says he's ready to move on. Having the opportunity to work with Carolina wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl, one of the best technicians in the game during his 17 years as a player, should be a plus.

Proehl helped turn around Ted Ginn Jr.'s career last season. Ginn, now at Arizona, went from two catches with San Francisco in 2012 to 36 for 556 yards and five touchdowns at Carolina last season.

Hill doesn't have that far to go. In his two seasons with the Jets, he caught 45 passes for 594 yards and four touchdowns.

He can be the deep threat Ginn was. Only undrafted rookie Philly Brown has elite speed among the five receivers on Carolina's current 53-man roster. And Brown is there more for his abilities as a kick returner than a receiver. He has troubles with drops, too.

"He can run -- 4.3 is pretty fast -- and he's a big, physical guy," backup quarterback Derek Anderson said of Hill. "Now we'll teach him and get out of him what we can."

Hill won't be moved to the 53-man roster for Sunday's opener at Tampa Bay. Coach Ron Rivera made that clear, reminding Hill has a lot to learn about his new scheme.

But it wouldn't be a reach to suggest Hill could move up by the second or third week. You don't sign a second-round pick to leave him on the practice squad.

"We were really the only ones who showed interest in him," Rivera said. "So hopefully, that means we’ll get a nice long look at him. We'll work him and see how he'll potentially fit us. And if the opportunity arises to bring him up, we will."
So the New York Jets' wide-receiver situation has improved over the past 24 hours, with the addition of Eric Decker. Now you have Decker, Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill and David Nelson as your top four guys. You have basketball size with Nelson (6-foot-5), Hill (6-4) and Decker (6-3). The Jets could add another veteran in free agency, perhaps James Jones (6-1).

Does this preclude them from drafting a receiver in the first round? Not at all. They absolutely could select a "speed" player to complement all the big bodies. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. certainly could see them going in that direction. He believes they still need a No. 1 receiver because he doesn't see Decker thriving in that role.

"I think Decker is a good No. 2 receiver," Kiper said Thursday in a media conference call. "If you’re asking more than that, maybe you’re expecting too much. He was in the perfect scenario certainly in Denver with Peyton [Manning] last year, when you think about what he was able to do numbers-wise. When he was at Minnesota, I had a second-, third-round grade on him when he came out. I liked him coming out of Minnesota as a 2, not a 1.

"If you get a guy like Marqise Lee or you get a guy like Odell Beckham Jr. (at No. 18), or if you get a guy like Brandin Cooks at that point, you’re still getting a guy who could be very viable with Decker," Kiper continued. "They still could take a wide receiver. If they didn’t, you have to look at a versatile linebacker, you certainly could look at a tight end if [Eric] Ebron slid down there. There’s going to be an attractive receiver still there. What they have to decide is, is Decker enough or do they want to get an Odell Beckham Jr. or a Brandin Cooks or Marqise Lee because all three of those players -- at least two of those -- I think still could be there when the Jets pick."

We still have two months to debate it.
NFL Network draft Mike Mayock conducted a pre-combine conference call Tuesday with reporters. A few takeaways from a New York Jets perspective:

1. Mayock called this "the deepest and best draft class I've seen in probably 10 years," especially at the wide receiver position. That's good news for the receiver-needy Jets. Mayock said there's so much talent in the draft that a general manager told him that having a top-20 pick this year is equivalent to a top-10 choice last year. The Jets pick 18th.

2. Assessing the Jets' receiving situation, Mayock said, "They need some talent out there." He said he wouldn't be surprised if the Jets picked multiple receivers in the draft. That, of course, could hinge on how they attack free agency. He believes the Jets could have a shot at one of the top three wideouts at 18, most likely USC's Marqise Lee or Texas A&M's Mike Evans. Clemson's Sammy Watkins will be "long gone."

3. Lee and Evans are totally different in terms of body types and skill sets. Lee can play inside, outside and return kicks. At 6-5, Evans is a massive target on the outside. Mayock mentioned how the Jets already have Jeremy Kerley in the slot and Stephen Hill on the outside, adding that Santonio Holmes (an expected cap casualty) is "at the end of his career." Mayock added, "I just think you pick less about X's and O's there; it's which guy is the best football player. My perspective is, you can't go wrong with either Marqise Lee or Mike Evans." He also mentioned Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin, in the Evans mold at 6-5, as a possible consideration.

4. Mayock is high on North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, so much so that he wouldn't be surprised if Ebron is a top-10 pick. The Jets need a pass-catching tight end like Ebron. Based on Mayock's evaluation, it doesn't sound like he'll slip to 18.

5. It took more than a half-hour into the session with reporters, but Mayock was finally asked about Missouri's Michael Sam, the first openly gay prospect in NFL history. Sam's sexual orientation never was mentioned; Mayock kept it strictly about football, giving Sam a lukewarm evaluation.

"He’s a tweener," Mayock said. "That's why people have trouble with the evaluation. ... I saw him on tape and again at the Senior Bowl. What I saw was a natural edge rush guy. He's much better going forward than backward. He’s got a little bit of explosion off the edge, but he doesn’t have the length (at 6-1 5/8, 255 pounds). He’s got linebacker size, but he’s got the physical skill set of a defensive end. He’s a tough fit. What I see is a situational pass-rusher, not an every-down player, and a core special teamer."

Mayock expects Sam to be picked anywhere from the third to fifth round.

6. Mayock raved about Notre Dame's Zack Martin and his versatility, his ability to play guard and tackle. It would be a stunner if the Jets went in that direction at 18, but it's something to file away, considering guard Willie Colon and tackle Austin Howard are headed to free agency.

Study: Jets healthiest team in NFL

January, 10, 2014
The New York Jets faced many challenges in 2013 -- a turnover-prone rookie at quarterback, seven new starters on defense, etc. One thing they didn't have to confront: A spate of injuries.

They were the healthiest team in the league, according to a study by Dallas Morning News football writer Rick Gosselin. The Jets lost a league-low 20 games by starters due to injury, including only five on defense. That, too, was the league-low.

The study doesn't reflect Mark Sanchez's season-ending shoulder surgery in the preseason. That would've been another 16 games lost if you operate under the presumption he would've been the opening-day starter. As you know, Rex Ryan never named a starting quarterback. Still hasn't.

The Jets got hit at wide receiver, where they lost Santonio Holmes (five games) and Stephen Hill (four). But, all things considered, they were extraordinarily fortunate when it came to injuries. Good thing, too, because they probably didn't have enough depth in certain areas.

On defense, they lost cornerback Dee Milliner and outside linebacker Quinton Coples for three and two games, respectively, providing continuity that allowed the coaches to integrate seven new starters. General manager John Idzik needs to fortify the team's depth in his second offseason because, honestly, what are the chances to staying this healthy in 2014?

In case you're wondering, the most injury-prone team was the New York Giants, which lost a league-high 91 games by starters, including 26 on the offensive line.

Green Day: Offseason issues await Idzik

December, 30, 2013
MIAMI -- It has been nearly three years since that magical day in Foxborough, where the New York Jets delivered their biggest win since that other magical day in the franchise's history, Super Bowl III, in 1969.

In January 2011, Rex Ryan conquered his nemesis, the New England Patriots, creating a big, loud and cocky green monster that figured to wreak havoc for seasons to come. But instead of the Incredible Hulk, they turned into Shrek -- ugly and goofy.

On Sunday, the Jets completed their third consecutive non-playoff season. It's their longest postseason drought since the dark ages of the 1990s, when they failed for six straight years under four different coaches. Their record since 2011 is just 22-26.

Without question, they overachieved in 2013, squeezing eight wins out of a young roster devoid of stars. Ryan did a commendable job in a rebuilding year and will return in 2014, the team announced after a season-ending 20-7 victory in Miami.

For GM John Idzik, the honeymoon is over. It's on him, and he faces an offseason with many challenging issues. Such as:

Augment the quarterback position: This is the biggest decision facing the Jets. They have to decide if Geno Smith is a true No. 1 quarterback or whether they should hedge their bet by bringing in legitimate competition. They have 16 games on tape to evaluate.

While Smith's late-season rally reduces the need to make a major acquisition, the smart play would be to add a competent veteran. Problem is, it's hard to find that guy, a No. 1/No. 2 quarterback.

Mark Sanchez fits the description, but there are health and salary-related questions, not to mention the entire issue of whether they'd want to re-create last summer's competition. Been there, done that.

An interesting target would be Kirk Cousins, who probably will be dangled in trade talks by the Washington Redskins. He wouldn't come cheaply in terms of compensation, maybe a second-round pick. That's a lot to surrender for a possible backup, but they have to look at the long view. He'd be an asset that appreciates in value.

They could go for Matt Schaub, the 2006 version of Cousins. Schaub would bring some baggage to the party, assuming he's released by the Houston Texans, but he’s still only 32 and would be a worthwhile reclamation project/insurance policy.

What about the draft? Unless Idzik absolutely falls in love with someone (Johnny Manziel, anyone?), it wouldn't make much sense to sink a first-round pick into a quarterback, one year after using a No. 2 on Smith. Jay Cutler could be the big fish in free agency if the Chicago Bears let him hit the market, but he'd be a disaster in New York.

Rebuild the offense: The Jets' skill-position talent has deteriorated steadily since 2010. Since 2011, they're ranked 26th in scoring, due largely to a lack of playmakers and poor quarterback play. They've ignored this side of the ball under the defensive-minded Ryan. It's time to pour money and resources into the offense so they compete in an offense-obsessed league.

They need a new tight end and two new wide receivers, preferably a game-breaker. Stephen Hill was supposed to be that guy, but he can't be counted on after two disappointing seasons.

The free-agent market for receivers is thin -- Eric Decker of the Denver Broncos might be the best -- so look for Idzik to address the need in the draft. There are a couple of good ones, Sammy Watkins (Clemson) and Marqise Lee (USC), assuming they turn pro. The top free-agent tight end is Jimmy Graham, but there's little chance he gets away from the New Orleans Saints.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Cromartie
AP Photo/Alan DiazWill Antonio Cromartie, a Pro Bowl cornerback in 2012, be playing in the Jets' secondary in 2014?
Spend money: Facing a tight cap situation last offseason, Idzik operated on a shoestring budget, doling out modest contracts. Cap space won't be an issue this time. With Darrelle Revis coming off the books, and with Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes likely to be released (a total savings of $16.5 million), the Jets will have close to $40 million in cap space.

In theory, the Jets could stage their biggest spending spree since 2008, the year they acquired Alan Faneca, Kris Jenkins, Calvin Pace and Damien Woody, but Idzik believes in building through the draft. He owns eight choices, a total that could grow to 10 or 11 with expected compensatory picks.

This is "go" time for Idzik, a chance to show his acumen as a team-builder.

The first thing they should do is take care of couple of their own free agents, namely right tackle Austin Howard and kicker Nick Folk. Both earned long-term deals with their play in 2013. Linebacker Pace and guard Willie Colon are B-list free agents who have value for the short term.

Out with the old: Sanchez, Holmes and Antonio Cromartie -- key players on the 2010 team that reached the AFC Championship Game -- are highly paid players with injury questions. It's possible all three could be playing elsewhere in 2014.

Holmes is a goner, for sure. They would've cut him two years ago if it weren't for $24 million in guarantees, one of the contracts that got Mike Tannenbaum fired. Sanchez fits the profile of what they need, but he's due a $2 million roster bonus in March -- and there's no way that will be paid. He'd have to agree to a massive pay cut, and that's unlikely to happen. Chances are, he'll be released.

Cromartie is a tough call, with a lot depending on his bad hip. His contract, which runs through 2014, is prohibitive -- a $15 million cap charge, including a $5 million roster bonus. He says he wants to retire a Jet, but let's see if he changes his tune when they propose a pay cut. Chances are, they'll cut him, letting him establish a market price before deciding whether to bring him back on a new deal.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Stephen Hill was a late addition to the injury report on Friday, as the New York Jets wide receiver was added after practicing in a limited capacity thanks to an injured knee.

All the other Jets were listed as probable for Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game against the Raiders at MetLife Stadium.

Earlier in the day, Jets coach Rex Ryan had said all players were probable, so Hill's status changed.

Questionable: WR Stephen Hill (knee).
Probable: G Willie Colon (calf), CB Antonio Cromartie (hip), DT Kenrick Ellis (back), WR Santonio Holmes (foot, hamstring), RB Chris Ivory (ankle), WR Jeremy Kerley (elbow), C Nick Mangold (wrist), LB Garrett McIntyre (knee), CB Dee Milliner (wrist), WR Greg Salas (finger), QB Geno Smith (right wrist), DE Muhammad Wilkerson (wrist), TE Kellen Winslow (knee)

Doubtful: G Mike Brisiel (ankle/knee), LB Kaluka Maiava (ribs/calf), RB Darren McFadden (ankle), WR Denarius Moore (shoulder), RB Jeremy Stewart (ankle/knee), S Usama Young (neck).
Questionable: S Tyvon Branch (ankle), LB Miles Burris (toe), RB Rashad Jennings (concussion).
Probable: DE Jason Hunter (foot), T Menelik Watson (illness).

W2W4: Jets at Ravens

November, 22, 2013
Let's call it like it is: The New York Jets stink on the road.

They've dropped 15 of their last 21, including 1-4 this season. Their minus-12 turnover margin is by far the worst in the league. They've been outscored in the first quarter, 34-6, suggesting they're not mentally or physically ready to play. Their shortcomings were on full display last Sunday in Orchard Park, where the Jets were embarrassed by the struggling Buffalo Bills, 37-14.

Here's the crazy thing: The Jets used to be a terrific road team under Rex Ryan, going 11-5 in his first two seasons -- plus four playoff wins. Those were the days.

On Sunday, the Jets (5-5) visit the Baltimore Ravens (4-6) at M&T Bank Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff, and this game has a scary look to it. The Ravens are 36-8 at home under John Harbaugh, whose defense tends to dominate on its own turf. They've allowed only 12.8 points per game in four home games.

This has the makings of a rough day for the Jets. What to watch for:

1. The Geno-scope: Geno Smith is one bad performance away from being involved in a full-blown quarterback controversy. He was pulled in the fourth quarter of the previous two losses, both blowouts, and he'll end up on the bench again, perhaps permanently, if he doesn't stop committing turnovers. The turnover count is up to 20, including 13 in five road games. The Jets want to make it work with Smith, especially with no viable veteran on the bench, but there comes a point where you have to say, "Enough is enough."

Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has to do something to get Smith -- and the entire offense -- out of this funk. Naturally, he will try to feature the running game to take some pressure off Smith, perhaps incorporating wrinkles in the Wildcat and read-option packages. Unfortunately for the Jets, the Ravens allow only 3.7 yards per rush, No. 6 in the league. Mornhinweg should impress upon Smith the importance of looking for his check-down options. He too often stays locked on his No. 1 read, forcing the ball into coverage. Against the Bills, he targeted his backs only four times.

2. Someone help the kid: Naturally, Smith took the brunt of the criticism for last week's mess, but he got no help from his receivers, who struggled against man-to-man coverage. That was a point of emphasis in practice; let's see if it works. Stephen Hill, branded a disappointment by Rex Ryan, received the good cop, bad cop treatment from Mornhinweg and Ryan, respectively. His starting job was threatened, but he'll still end up playing a lot. Santonio Holmes' hamstring still is an issue, so who knows how much he can contribute? Mornhinweg should feature his tight ends, as the Ravens' safeties are suspect in coverage, especially ex-Jet James Ihedigbo.

3. Secure the edges: This is a big game for the Jets' tackles, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Austin Howard. The Ravens bring plenty of heat on the edges, with rush linebacker Terrell Suggs (nine sacks) and situational rusher Elvis Dumervil (8.5 sacks). Smith took a beating last week, starting from the very first series, and he's at a vulnerable stage in his development. If he gets hit hard and early, he's liable to turn skittish. The Ravens pounded Mark Sanchez in 2011, and there are some who believe he wasn't the same after that beating. The Ravens' pass rush is particularly effective at home. Since 2011, they've record 67 sacks, tied for second in the league.

4. Homecoming, Part Deaux: This should be a special day for Ravens icon Ed Reed, except he already did the homecoming thing in Week 3 as a member of the Houston Texans. That didn't go particularly well. His team lost, 30-9, and his performance was non-descript. That, too, was the case last week in his Jets debut. Now, more than ever, the Jets need Reed to turn back the clock. A big play by the future Hall of Famer, especially in his old house, would be an enormous spark for the Jets, who have allowed an alarming number of long completions.

Joe Flacco likes to throw deep, especially to Torrey Smith, whose vertical speed could cause problems for struggling CB Antonio Cromartie. The good news for the Jets is that Flacco, he of the Super Bowl MVP and $120 million contract, is having a subpar season -- especially on deep balls. In fact, he has only two touchdowns and five interceptions on throws of longer than 15 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

5. Rising Sons: The Jets' defensive line -- a.k.a. Sons of Anarchy -- should dominate the line of scrimmage. The Ravens' offensive line is really struggling, especially C Gino Gradkowski. Their running game showed signs of life last week against the Chicago Bears, but it has been a major disappointment, especially Ray Rice, averaging only 3.0 yards per carry. It would be an absolute shock if the Jets, with the best run defense in the league, allow more than 75 yards. In theory, they should turn the Ravens into a one-dimensional offense, allowing them to devour Flacco, who already has 33 sacks. But, as we've seen a few times, it doesn't work out that way because of the problems in coverage.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Wide receiver Stephen Hill became a starter the moment he was picked in the second round of the 2012 draft. Those days could be over.

Hill, who has gone two straight games without a catch, is in jeopardy of losing his job, according to New York Jets coach Rex Ryan.

"Yeah, that will be a consideration," Ryan said Monday.

In other words, it will be a surprise if Hill keeps his job.

Hill has been a non-factor in six consecutive games. For the season, he has only 23 receptions despite the fact that he has played a team-high 517 snaps at wide receiver. The lowpoint occurred Sunday against the Buffalo Bills: Hill had no catches despite seven targets.

Ryan, who rarely criticizes players in public, delivered an unusually blunt evaluation of Hill.

"It certainly hasn't been what we thought it would be and where we hoped it would be," he said. "I know the want-to is there, it's just that the production hasn't been there for whatever reason."

Ryan noted that opponents might be paying more attention to Hill, but that seemed like a bit of a stretch. The fact is, Hill is a one-dimensional receiver -- a vertical threat -- whose importance has been minimized because of the overall struggles of the passing game.

"It's frustrating to him, to all of us," said Ryan, who wasn't keen on the idea of trading up for Hill and picking him in the second round. "We've been expecting bigger things from Stephen and, quite honestly, it just hasn't happened."

The Jets took a chance on Hill because of his size and speed, but he was a raw receiver coming out of Georgia Tech, where he was used mostly as a blocker in a triple-option offense.

Hill likely would be replaced by David Nelson, who has 17 catches in only six games since being signed as a free agent.

Stephen Hill claims he's not frustrated

November, 9, 2013
Remember Stephen Hill? He used to be a wide receiver on the New York Jets.

Ever since his big game against the Buffalo Bills in Week 3, Hill has disappeared from the offfense. He has only 10 catches for 107 yards and zero touchdowns over the past six games. Granted, he missed almost an entire game with a concussion (Week 5), but the lack of productivity has spanned long enough to raise questions.

It's not like he can't get on the field. The healthiest receiver on the team, Hill has participated in a team-high 76 percent of the offensive snaps (466 out of 612), yet he hasn't received too many looks from Geno Smith -- only 24 targets in the past six games.

Hill insisted it's not frustrating.

"No, it's not," he said. "I go out there and do my job every play. I block when I need to block, and they get big runs off that. It showed [Sunday]."

Hill made a couple of nice downfield blocks on key running plays against the New Orleans Saints, but he wasn't drafted in the second round last year because of his blocking prowess. He's supposed to be a big-play receiver.

So what's going on? A couple of things.

Since Santonio Holmes' injury in Week 4, the Jets have dialed back the passing game, especially the vertical game. They've taken a conservative approach, featuring the ground attack and reducing the burden on Smith. At this stage of his career, Hill is a one-trick pony -- he stretches the field with deep routes. That element in the offense has been missing. As a result, so has Hill, who basically runs clearouts for Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson.

The good news for Hill is that the Jets return from their bye next week against the Bills. He has 197 receiving yards, approximately one-third of his career total, against the Bills, who make him look like Calvin Johnson.

"It could be a turning point," Hill said. "I play well against Buffalo, but I've only played Buffalo twice. I don't know what that means. Those were just mismatches at those times and we had good opportunities."
Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. The Re-X factor: The top storyline for the second half of the season, which begins Sunday, will be the future of head coach Rex Ryan. Owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik have to make a decision: Extend his contract or fire him. Naturally, the No. 1 factor will be the team's record, but there's another factor that should (and will) loom large in the evaluation -- the development of rookie quarterback Geno Smith.

If Smith makes strides and finishes with his arrow pointing up, it would be a huge boost for Ryan and his coaching staff. It would mean he's developing under Marty Mornhinweg & Co., and what sense would it make to start over next year with a new staff? My sense is that a 7-9 record, with an ascending Smith, would be good enough to earn Ryan another year. Statistically, Smith's second quarter was slightly better than the first, but he'll need more than baby steps over the final eight games to nail down the job for 2014. If he regresses, it won't bode well for Ryan.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill the Jets use another early draft pick to select a QB if rookie Geno Smith continues to struggle the rest of the season?
"If I put on my GM hat, I would tie Rex, Marty and Geno together," said ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, one of the smart people around football. "The Marty-Geno mix is really good, and I think Marty is good for Rex. The Jets' ceiling, if they acquire more talent, is higher because of Marty's aggressive approach. I wouldn't want to start over with a new guy next year. They should maintain continuity. They're wildly inconsistent, but it looks better and has a better feel than last year. It's a better product."

I agree. But Smith needs to keep going in the right direction.

2. Quarterbacking 101: Dilfer said Smith is operating an offensive system more complex than what the Jets used in Mark Sanchez's rookie year in 2009. In '09, they scaled it back to help Sanchez. It was heavy play-action and they moved the pocket, halving the field and cutting down his reads. With Smith, "It's pure dropback, with complex read progressions," Dilfer said. "Marty is throwing a lot of good stuff at him. It's baptism by fire. Talking to great coaches and great quarterbacks, and knowing my own experience, that's the best way to get the best out of a young quarterback. It speeds them up to the graduate level."

I get it, but I think there should be times when Mornhinweg dials it back a little to help Smith through rough patches.

3. Where the Hill is Stephen? Second-year WR Stephen Hill has become an afterthought in the Jets' offense, raising questions about him. Consider the last five games: 23 targets and only 10 receptions, including five when the team was in an obvious catch-up/passing mode. Save for two big games against the Buffalo Bills, Hill has been a disappointment in his first two seasons. In fact, one-third of his career yardage total (and three of his four TDs) has come in the two Buffalo games.

I asked Mornhinweg about Hill's lack of production, and all he said was, "That's my responsibility. I have to do a better job there." Meaning? "Get him the ball a little bit."

Here's the part that stings the Jets: They drafted Hill in the second round (43rd overall) after trading up, passing up WR Alshon Jeffery, who has become a solid receiver with the Chicago Bears. Jeffery has 57 catches, 928 yards and five touchdowns in two seasons; Hill has 44, 592 and four. The Jets knew Hill would be a project when they drafted him, but it has to be troubling that a receiver off the street -- David Nelson -- has produced better numbers over the past month.

4. Re-visiting Revis Island: Some in the media (including me) have fallen into the trap of trying to imagine the Jets' defense if they had kept CB Darrelle Revis, perhaps conveniently forgetting that he's coming back from major knee surgery. He's still not the Revis of old, and he admitted it the other day on his weekly radio spot in Tampa. Revis, explaining why the Buccaneers haven't used him in the press-man style that made him famous, said his surgically repaired knee has been the main factor.

“Earlier in the year, I didn’t have the explosion to play press; the receiver would just run the [vertical] 9-route on me and I didn’t have the stamina to do that play in and play out, especially playing press," Revis said.

If he were with the Jets, this would be a significant issue, considering their system is predicated on man-to-man coverage.

5. Ivory's payback: Chris Ivory downplayed Sunday's matchup against the New Orleans Saints, his former team, but I suspect he will be highly motivated to prove a point. Back in training camp, Ivory admitted to me that his three-year run in New Orleans was difficult at times because of their crowded backfield.

"I never felt lost, but I didn't like the situation at times," Ivory said. "At the same time, you have to understand there are phases you have to go through, being undrafted. They had guys they drafted, guys they had confidence in. Me, just coming in, I had to build their confidence and it took a little more time."

The Jets traded a fourth-round pick for Ivory, one of only six player trades last offseason involving a fourth-round pick or higher, according to ESPN's John Clayton. The Jets had two of the six -- the Ivory and Revis trades.

6. Revolving door: Because of injuries, it has been difficult to build continuity on offense. In fact, the Jets have used 28 different players, tied with the Bucs for most in the league.

7. Go wide, young man: The Jets aren't known as a perimeter running team, but maybe they should think about it more often. When they run around left end, they average 6.78 yards per carry, the fifth-best mark in the league, according to NFL stats. When they go right end, it's 5.59 yards. Imagine if they had a real perimeter threat.

8. McElroy's intel: Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report spent a week with Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who allowed behind-the-scenes access as he prepared for last week's game against the Jets. The story reveals that former Jets QB Greg McElroy, a member of the Bengals' practice squad, was a big help. McElroy typed up a tip sheet and gave it to QB Andy Dalton. Gruden also picked his brain on the Jets in a meeting.

"His insight is very helpful," Gruden told Pompei in the middle of the week. "He has a pulse on their defense, what hurts them."

I'd say the Bengals hurt them, all right.

9. Good news/bad news: The Jets are one of only 11 teams since 2001 to have a minus-12 turnover margin or worse through eight games. That's bad. Of those 11 teams, they're the only one to have a .500 record. That's good. It indicates what they could be if Smith stops giving it away.

10. Feeling old: The first time I saw Nick Toon was Nov. 27, 1992, the day his dad, Al, retired from the NFL at the too-young age of 29. Nick was only 4, but he was at the news conference, and I remember seeing him afterward in the parking lot at the Jets' old Hofstra training facility. He hopped into a mini-van, and the family drove off. It always struck me that Al's wife, Jane, was behind the wheel. Al, still suffering from post-concussion syndrome, wasn't fit to drive. Now, Nick is a grown-up wide receiver, and he'll be playing Sunday for the Saints at MetLife Stadium. I'll be in the press box, wondering how 21 years flew by in a minute.

Practice Report: Signs of progress

October, 31, 2013
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Five New York Jets players did not practice Wednesday, but four of them were doing at least some work Thursday, during the portion of practice open to the media.

Wide receivers Stephen Hill (foot) and Jeremy Kerley (illness), and guard Willie Colon (calf) were in uniform and back on the field. Wideout Santonio Holmes (hamstring) was on the field, too, participating in wide-receiver drills for the second consecutive day.

Tight end Jeff Cumberland (concussion) was not practicing, making it even more likely he will not play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

Hill, unlike Holmes, did not participate in wide-receiver drills. He was riding an exercise bike on the side. The same goes for wideout David Nelson, who did not appear on Wednesday's official injury report, but had a hamstring issue last week.

We'll have more information for you later this afternoon, after interviews and the release of the official injury report.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Geno Smith didn't have many people to throw the ball to Wednesday.

The New York Jets' top three wide receivers -- Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley -- all did not practice, and the same goes for starting tight end Jeff Cumberland.

Cumberland suffered a concussion last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, so his status for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints is very much in question. Holmes did run some routes in position-group drills, but is more likely to return in two weeks, following the Jets' bye. Hill said he expects to play against the Saints. And Kerley wasn't spotted at the practice facility Wednesday.

Right guard Willie Colon also missed practice because of a calf injury.

Here's the full injury report:


Did Not Participate

G Willie Colon (calf)
TE Jeff Cumberland (concussion)
WR Stephen Hill (foot)
WR Santonio Holmes (hamstring)
WR Jeremy Kerley (illness)

Limited Participation

C Nick Mangold (ribs)

Full Participation

S Antonio Allen (finger)
WR Josh Cribbs (knee)
CB Antonio Cromartie (hip)
DT Kenrick Ellis (back)
LB Garrett McIntyre (knee)
TE Konrad Reuland (knee)
WR Greg Salas (knee)
CB Darrin Walls (shoulder)
G Brian Winters (ankle)


Did Not Participate

WR Marques Colston (knee)
G Jahri Evans (hip)
S Malcolm Jenkins (knee)
S Kenny Vaccaro (concussion, back)
DT Tyrunn Walker (knee)

Limited Participation

TE Jimmy Graham (foot)
S Roman Harper (knee)
LB David Hawthorne (ankle)
WR Kenny Stills (knee)
CB Rod Sweeting (hip)

Full Participation

DE Akiem Hicks (knee)
DE Cameron Jordan (ankle)
CB Keenan Lewis (foot, knee)