Will Hill did not make a very good first impression on the Giants. Come to think of it, his second impression wasn't all that great either. But the Giants saw something in the young, troubled safety and decided to stick with him when another team might have turned its back, and now they are reaping the rewards for their patience and loyalty.
Hill was suspended for the first four games of this season, yet another strike against him in an already murky NFL career. It was his second four-game suspension in two years. Last season he sat out four games for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs; this year it was for violating the substance-abuse policy.
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Since his return early last month, though, Hill has been a solid contributor on a defensive unit that is trying to lead the team's turnaround. He led the team with 11 solo tackles in a Week 5 start against the Eagles and has 25 tackles in four games. He also had an interception with 11 seconds remaining two weeks ago to clinch the Giants' second straight victory.
"He's gone about his business and we'll stand by him and we encourage him," coach Tom Coughlin said. "I think he feels a great deal of responsibility to his teammates now, and hopefully that will just continue to grow."
Hill wasn't always that way. Certainly not when he entered the 2011 draft.
"I remember him coming out of college,'' safeties coach Dave Merritt said. "He sat in my office before the draft, and I remember seeing this kid thinking that the world is his and everyone else needed to bow down at his feet."
Needless to say, the Giants did not select him. Neither did anyone else. Nor did anyone sign him as an undrafted free agent. A life-altering season.
"To sit out that whole year and not play football, I didn't like the taste," Hill said. "So I had to change something."
That something was his attitude. By the time Hill came back to the Giants in the spring of 2012 for a tryout in rookie minicamp, Merritt said he didn't even recognize the person whom he had scouted.
"It humbled him into, really, an ant," Merritt said. "He really went down to the floor, and to be able to come back like that when he came back on our workout that we had for him, he came out with a clean shave and a clean cut. I didn't know who the kid was, to be honest with you, when I saw him that first day."
Merritt said Hill is a 6 on a scale of 10 in terms of his development, so he's still got a ways to go. But the coach believes that Hill someday can be a Pro Bowl type of safety.
"Will brings a tenacity about him that's like no other," Merritt said. "When he hits you, he actually has knockback tackles. He has leverage ability. He understands power angles, and hats off to the kid and his training and what he's learned over the years. I'm just trying to make sure I don't mess it up."
So is Hill. He knows he's on one of the shortest tethers on the team. There may not be enough tackles to be made to overcome another off-the-field slip-up.
On the field, though, he's managed to maintain the cockiness and arrogance that players must have. He said he's not surprised that he has become such a key piece to the defense in a short period of time.
"Coach Merritt always believed in me. He knew what I was capable of," Hill said. "And my teammates knew what I was capable of and were waiting for me to get back to be able to contribute."
He played in 12 games last year, recording 29 solo tackles and two pass breakups, but was a bit player behind starters Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown.
With Brown on injured reserve this season, Hill has emerged as a starter. In the Oct. 27 game against the Eagles, he played every defensive snap while Ryan Mundy, who had been starting at the position, had none.
Mundy was a bit limited by an undisclosed hip injury at the time, and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said the two will go back to more of a rotation going forward, but it will be hard to keep Hill on the sideline the way he's been performing.
He's even developed a signature dance to punctuate his big plays. Seem familiar?
"That's going to be my salsa, my Victor Cruz dance," Hill said. "Ever since I've been doing it, everybody's been picking up on that."
Hill doesn't salsa like the other New Jersey product on the team. Instead he does a dance called "The Bernie" in which he flops his body like the corpse in the movie "Weekend at Bernie's."
He debuted it against the Eagles on Oct. 6.
"It was planned," he said of the move. "Just something to let people know that I was back and I was on the field. It just stuck around."
Now it's up to Hill to make sure he does, too.