NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The fans may not agree, but coaches are paid to know these things.
Don’t count Jets wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal among those who want to see Stephen Hill run out of town on a rail. On the contrary, Lal thinks the third-year wideout has, to a certain degree, been a victim of circumstance.
“I have a hard time labeling a guy a bust when he’s done everything in his power,” Lal told the Daily News on Thursday. “Luck in terms of injuries hasn’t been on his side. Therefore, he hasn’t produced consistently. And he’s still only 23 years old.”
Hill, who was drafted in the second round in 2012, has just 45 receptions, 594 yards and four touchdowns in his two seasons. And what makes those numbers even more disappointing is the fact that the Jets have been begging for anyone to assume control out wide for years. The Jets didn’t view Hill as a reach that early in the draft, even though he came from an option offense. The assumption was his raw ability, with the right coaching, would lead to brighter days down the road.
But so far, Hill has been operating in darkness. Both of his NFL seasons have ended with him on injured reserve due to bad knees.
Lal, however, said it’s not yet time to sound the panic alarm.
“It’s a little early to label him as a bust,” Lal said. “When I think of bust, I don’t think of him that way. I have seen players who are higher picks that were busts because of their own laziness. Those are busts.”
Fans find that tough to swallow considering the Jets traded up to get Hill when two picks later the Chicago Bears drafted impact wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who had 89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns last season alone.
Hill, on the other hand, was held without a reception in four games during the 2013 season.
“The learning curve has been steep,” Lal told the newspaper. “We haven’t had the chance to rep it like we would (like to). So am I disappointed? On some level, yeah. I’m not disappointed in him, because I know he’s given it his all. Things haven’t worked out. I’d be disappointed in him if he wasn’t trying or wasn’t attentive. And he’s none of those things. He genuinely tries. He wants to be good. He does everything that’s asked. I’m just disappointed in the situation… and really most disappointed in that he has a label of being an inconsistent catcher… It’s not true. So that disappointments me.”
Prior to OTAs Hill insisted that he’d work very hard during this offseason. He also said a recent growth spurt had pushed him above 6-foot-4, which would only help him going forward.
But unlike in previous years the Jets appear to have a lot of talented players fighting for a scant few jobs. Regardless if he was injured in the past, the fact remains that Hill may have blown his best opportunity to entrench himself as a starter. He is now one of 12 receivers on the roster, and with big ticket free agent signing Eric Decker and slot stud Jeremy Kerley all but guaranteed of major playing time, Hill finds himself in a group featuring some veterans and draft picks all fighting for reps and probably four spots, assuming the Jets keep six receivers.
“What’s been communicated is that there is no free ride to make this team this year,” Lal said. “Whoever the best players are (will) make the team. That’s been communicated clearly. People are going to have to prove that they belong and that’s how it’s going to be dealt with.”
So clearly Hill has work to do if he wants to remain a Jet.