Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie stretches before a preseason game against...

Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie stretches before a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Aug. 17, 2013) Credit: AP

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Stephen Hill said he didn't even notice the commotion behind him. All he was focused on was the next play -- and the immediate pain.

The second-year receiver was the recipient of a crushing blow from cornerback Antonio Cromartie during Wednesday's two-minute drill period -- a hit so forceful it knocked Hill on his back instantly and irked members of the Jets' offense.

"When Cro is aggressive, he is as good as any corner out there," Rex Ryan said, " . . . but you have to protect your teammate above all else."

After rookie quarterback Geno Smith completed a pass to Hill near the goal line, Cromartie left his coverage assignment and laid out Hill. Several offensive players, including center Nick Mangold, rushed over and sounded off on Cromartie.

The scuffle didn't last long, but as players walked away, Cromartie yelled: "Don't cry! Play ball!"

Hill, who trained this offseason with the veteran cornerback, said he wasn't upset by the hit and later talked to Cromartie on the sideline. "He was like, 'I didn't even mean to do it,' '' Hill said. "I said look it's football. Just keep playing.''

He later said that he was "kind of tripped" by people "going crazy" over the collision. "Football's starting to become very -- I'm not trying to say soft, but you've got to hit," Hill said. "That's what it's for. It's a gladiator sport. That's the stuff that's supposed to happen."

Though Ryan liked the competitive fire shown in practice, he noted it was "maybe a little too spirited."

"I was disappointed because we have to protect each other," he said. " . . . I don't think he intended to certainly hurt Stephen, but still we have got to be smarter."

Wideout Clyde Gates appeared to hurt his left arm on the play and did not return. Ryan, however, didn't have an update. Hill, however, said he was fine.

"[It was] nothing to the head or anything," said Hill, who returned for 7-on-7 drills and made a jaw-dropping, mid-air touchdown catch over cornerback Mike Edwards toward the end of practice.

But it wasn't "nothing" to his teammates.

"As a quarterback, as a teammate, you don't want to see that happen," Smith said. "Especially, to one of our guys we expect to contribute. Stephen's tough, he got right up. I saw Nick get in Cro's face. That's just a part of supporting your teammates. We're all a family around here, but at times it takes some of that to get your point across."

Mangold gave a curt "not for you to know" when asked if he talked to Cromartie after practice about the incident.

Hill, meanwhile, shrugged off Cromartie's "don't cry" comment. "I'm glad he brought the thump," he said. "That gives me more confidence, especially if I get hit in a game like that."

Notes & quotes: The Jets placed FB Lex Hilliard on injured reserve and signed WR Marcus Rucker. Hilliard will undergo surgery for a broken bone in his shoulder, a source told Newsday. The team also announced the signing of C Scott Wedige . . . NT Kenrick Ellis, who injured his back "competing with a teammate" in the weight room, doesn't expect to play vs. the Giants, but hopes to be ready for the regular season . . . CB Dee Milliner (sore calf) missed his second straight practice . . . Joe McKnight told The Associated Press he recently suffered a concussion, but Ryan said the trainers never told him that. "I was informed that he had a head injury. And that was it," said the coach, who later added, "I'll stand by our doctors and our trainers and not look for a witch hunt."

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