Inconsistent WR Stephen Hill must focus better

Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill celebrates after making Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill celebrates after making a first down during the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts in East Rutherford, N.J. on Oct. 14, 2012. Photo Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

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Somehow the rain had rendered Stephen Hill's hands useless.

Swirling winds and steady downpours had soaked the turf Tuesday at SUNY Cortland, making the second-to-last training camp practice far more grueling than players had hoped. Several Jets, including quarterback Michael Vick, had issues in the elements. But as the morning went on, it appeared as if the rain had become Hill's kryptonite.

Three drops, including one on the very first play of team drills, stood out. And those miscues -- a result of poor mechanics and a lack of focus -- perfectly encapsulated the enigma that is Hill.

The focus of Saturday night's preseason game in Cincinnati will be on the split reps between Geno Smith and Vick, the debut of first-round safety Calvin Pryor and the new-look offense with wide receiver Eric Decker and running back Chris Johnson. But much attention should be paid to Hill, a 2012 second-round pick, and his role.

The 6-4, 215-pounder, who ended each of the previous two seasons on injured reserve, has 45 catches for 594 yards and four touchdowns in 23 games. Hill put up big numbers against Buffalo in both years, including 108 yards and a TD on only three catches in Week 3 last year. Unfortunately for the Jets, he won't get to face the Bills until Week 8.

Slot receiver Jeremy Kerley became Smith's safety net last season, and now the quarterback appears to have developed a very good rapport with free-agent addition Decker. Meanwhile, Hill, 23, appears to be lost in the shuffle.

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He has shown flashes in camp, as he did the previous two years, but he had zero targets against the Colts last week, according to the NFL's official gamebook, despite having the second-highest snap total of any Jets skill player.

Asked Tuesday if he expects Hill to produce more, Rex Ryan offered a wishy-washy response.

"Well, I don't know,'' he said. "He's had some really good days out here. He's had some great days out here.

"Like we talked about, you've got to focus more on things [in bad weather]. You can't just assume it's business as usual. It's not. When you're catching a wet football, it's different. And so, we have to get better at that . . .

"I get it. I know receivers get paid to catch the football, but sometimes there are opportunities there. Sometimes there aren't.''

Despite the slick conditions, Smith opened team drills by airing it out to Hill, who had easily beaten newly converted cornerback Antonio Allen near the sideline. The ball bounced off Hill's hands.

A little later, Hill leaped for Smith's pass over the middle but dropped it when he tried to catch it against his body. Hill came away grimacing and cradling one hand in the other.

Then, with 5-9 corner Ellis Lankster in coverage, Hill lost control of a pass from Smith that was slightly behind him.

But Smith immediately came to Hill's defense.

"People like to get on Stephen for dropping passes, but Stephen makes great catches on a regular basis,'' Smith said. "All receivers have those mishaps.

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"I'm not going to get down on him, I'm not going to yell at him and I'm not going to create a scene. Instead, I am going to uplift him and continue to keep his spirits high. Because I know when the game is on, he will make those catches for us.''

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