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.
After rookie quarterback Geno Smith completed a pass to Hill near the goal line, Cromartie left his assignment and laid out Hill with one swift blow. The Jets offense didn’t take kindly to the hard hit, however.
Led by center Nick Mangold, several offensive players rushed over and sounded off on Cromartie. The scuffle didn’t last particularly long, but as players began walking away, Cromartie yelled: “Don’t cry! Play Ball!”
Rex Ryan said he liked the competition the team showed in practice, but noted it was “maybe a little too spirited.”
“There’s ‘thud’ and there’s over-the-top ‘thud,’” he added. “…I was disappointed because we have to protect each other.”
While Hill understood his head coach’s point of view, he said he doesn’t “feel any type of way” about the hit. He also added that he and Cromartie – whom he trained with in the offseason – talked about the play right afterward.
“I have nothing against Cro,” he said. “I even talked to him about and he was like, ‘I didn’t even mean to do it.’ I said, look it’s football. Just keep playing. Stuff like this is going to happen.”
Hill went on to say that “it kind of tripped me out when people were going crazy about it” because he called football is both a “collision sport” and a “gladiator sport.”
“That’s what it is – football,” he said. “Football’s starting to become very – I’m not trying to say soft, but you’ve got to hit. That’s what it’s for. It’s a gladiator sport. That’s the stuff that’s supposed to happen.
Hill later returned for 7-on-7 drills and made a jaw-dropping, mid-air touchdown catch over cornerback Mike Edwards toward the end of practice. Hill insisted he was fine, saying: “[It was] nothing to the head or anything. It was just a collision.”
When told of Cromartie’s “don’t cry” comment, the young receiver just shrugged.
“I’m glad he brought the thump,” Hill said. “That gives me more confidence especially if I get hit in a game like that.”
Though initially unaware that so many teammates had rushed to his defense, Hill said he was happy to have their support. “Especially offensive linemen having your back in that situation,” he said, reiterating he’s OK. “But I definitely have no problems with it at all.”
Mangold, however, didn’t want to delve too deeply in his reaction to Cro or the play.
“It's a football play. Things happen,” he said. “You have to move on."
Asked if he talked to Cromartie about it, the Jets center offered a curt: “Not for you to know.”
Wide receiver Clyde Gates also was hurt on the play and did not return. Ryan, however, didn’t have an update.