CORTLAND, N.Y. - Stephen Hill went from being a breakout star against the Bills in his first NFL game to being considered a bust by a majority of Jets fans.
He's endured relentless boos from Jet Nation and endless media questions about his lack of production and propensity for injury. But the 23-year-old's playmaking ability has turned heads here in training camp -- in the nick of time.
"Every day I feel like it's my last day," Hill said. "So I just come out here, and that's how I play. Nothing's guaranteed in this league."
When the Jets moved up to draft him in the second round in 2012, it was clear the Georgia Tech product would be a project, but Hill's career has been stalled by health issues. He ended each of the past two seasons on injured reserve and registered only 45 catches for 594 yards and four touchdowns in 23 games.
But for the first time in a long time, Hill is healthy, and he's looking to make the most of his opportunity in his third year. Hill, who noted that he's now 6-5 after growing an inch during the offseason, was the star of Friday's practice, hauling in two touchdown passes against Dee Milliner, including a 60-yard bomb that generated cheers from the SUNY Cortland crowd.
Just the day before, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg raved about how good Hill has looked in camp. "Stephen Hill -- outstanding," he said. "He is going into his third year, [he was] pretty raw coming out. Some of the receivers make this big jump between their second and third year, and it looks like Stephen is doing that."
But is Hill's camp productivity a sign of things to come, or just fool's gold?
Coach Rex Ryan, who is encouraged by Hill's play, seems to be taking a cautiously optimistic approach.
"It was good," he said of Hill's performance Friday. "He got deep on that one, too, right at the end. It was a 10-play stretch, you've got to focus and he made a nice play there. So that was good to see.
"It's coming. We'll see how it is. He's going to have an opportunity and we'll see. Again, like I said, we've got great competition out there and I think it's good. There's a lot of guys pushing each other and we'll see how that affects Stephen. But I think, obviously, today was a good day for him."
New No. 1 receiver Eric Decker (who signed a five-year, $36.25-million deal in March) and slot receiver Jeremy Kerley already have solidified their starting jobs. And with the Jets hoping to keep six or so receivers, it's unclear whether Hill will make the final cut. Consistency and durability have been his biggest issues, and only time will tell if he's the deep threat who can bolster their offense for years to come.
So far, so good: Hill's confidence is burgeoning with each practice and he's stayed healthy. But a lot can happen between now and September.
"If I do something pretty well, [Mornhinweg] does acknowledge it," he said. "I'm excited that I'm out here and he's giving me another chance to play under his offense."