One of the great things about training camp is that it gives fans a chance to get close to players and coaches during practice sessions. If you're Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill, it's also one of the worst things about camp. Hill, who struggled in his first two NFL seasons, is already hearing it from the peanut gallery.
According to ESPN.com's Jane McManus, Hill had a message for fans who said the wide receiver shouldn't even be on the field as the team opened training camp at SUNY Cortland in upstate New York.
"Take me out of the game?" Hill yelled back to the stands. "You act like I didn't hear that s---."
Whether Hill hears it or not, the reality is that he's fighting for a roster spot on a team that's not particularly deep at the position.
Drafted 43rd overall in 2012, the 6-4, 215-pound former Georgia Tech standout was supposed to be the big, fast downfield target that would make life easier for Mark Sanchez. Instead, Hill struggled as a rookie, catching 24 passes for 342 yards and one touchdown, and things got worse in 2013 when he managed just 21 receptions for 252 yards and three scores.
In June, Jets wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal admitted that this will be a make-or-break season for Hill.
“It's a little early to label him as a bust,” Lal said at the time. “When I think of bust, I don't think of him that way. I have seen players who are higher picks that were busts because of their own laziness. Those are busts. ...
“The learning curve has been steep (for Hill),” Lal continued. “We haven't had the chance to rep it like we would (like to). So am I disappointed? On some level, yeah. I'm not disappointed in him, because I know he's given it his all. Things haven't worked out. I'd be disappointed in him if he wasn't trying or wasn't attentive. And he's none of those things. He genuinely tries. He wants to be good. He does everything that's asked. I'm just disappointed in the situation … and really most disappointed in that he has a label of being an inconsistent catcher… It's not true. So that disappointments me.”
Back in September 2012, perhaps as a motivational ploy, coach Rex Ryan admitted that he didn't even want to draft Hill. "Well, nothing told me he would (contribute),'' Ryan told SI.com's Don Banks at the time.
"Nothing. When I saw the tape (of his collegiate play) I was concerned. But (then-Jets general manager) Mike Tannenbaum and (senior personnel executive) Terry Bradway and all our scouts were adamant about this guy. They were adamant that this guy can do it. He can run all these routes, he had good hands and he's got 4.2 speed at 6-foot-5. He was the guy they all wanted, but honestly, when it came down to it, a wideout? Not my dream pick. But now that we have him, of course, I want to claim him: 'Oh, that was my pick.' But it really wasn't.''
The Jets signed Eric Decker in the offseason and he will be the No. 1 receiver. Who will line up opposite him -- whether it's Hill, David Nelson, Jeremy Kerley or someone else -- will be determined in the coming weeks.