JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jason Hill figured he would move across the country, get a fresh start and have plenty of time to get acclimated to his new team, new offense, new coaches and new teammates.
He figured wrong.
With Mike Sims-Walker dealing with a high-ankle sprain and Tiquan Underwood coming off a game in which he dropped two passes, the Jacksonville Jaguars are giving the former Washington State Cougar and San Francisco 49ers receiver a “good look” in practice.
A third-round draft pick in 2007, who was claimed off waivers last week, Hill might even get some playing time Sunday when the Jaguars (6-4) play the New York Giants (6-4).
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“I’m still learning, but I’ve got a couple more days to learn as much as I can,” Hill said Wednesday. “I’m embracing it. I’m asking tons of questions, trying to get to know the guys. It’s a fun experience. I kind of feel like a rookie all over again.”
There’s one major difference, though: Hill no longer has the expectations that come with being an early-round draft pick or the pressures that come with playing in his hometown.
“That part is enjoyable,” he said. “I’m away from my family. I get to focus a little bit more. Being from San Francisco, that was a big deal having my family nearby. But getting away, it’s like going to college all over again and starting off fresh. I had a great college career when I moved away, so hopefully I’ll move away now and have a great rest of my career.”
Hill caught 148 passes for 2,704 yards and a school-record 32 touchdowns at Washington State. The 49ers selected him with the 76th pick in 2007 – three spots higher than the Jaguars took Sims-Walker.
Hill caught 30 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns in his second season, but his progression was slowed by coaching, coordinator and quarterback changes.
He played for coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary; worked under offensive coordinators Jim Hostler, Mike Martz, Jimmy Raye and Mike Johnson; and caught passes from Trent Dilfer, Alex Smith, Shaun Hill, Chris Weinke, J.T. O’Sullivan, Troy Smith and David Carr.
“It’s just one of those things,” Hill said. “You get a new GM, a new coach, new coordinators every year, changing quarterbacks. It was a number of things that went wrong in San Francisco. You could tell by the records we had. ... I haven’t had the type of career that I wanted to have. I’m past that. I’m here now, and I plan on making the best of this.”
Hill might not have to wait long for a chance.
Sims-Walker sprained his right ankle against Houston and was inactive last week against Cleveland. Although coach Jack Del Rio was optimistic Sims-Walker could return to practice later this week and be able to play Sunday, it’s unlikely he would even be close to full speed against the Giants.
Underwood, a second-year player, started in place of Sims-Walker against the Browns. But he dropped two passes and finished with one reception despite five targets. He also muffed a kickoff.
“You can’t worry about a guy being fragile,” Del Rio said. “He’s going to have to fight his way back. We put him in a spot. The spot was maybe a little too big for him. He didn’t play well. He had an opportunity. He’s going to have to fight his way back to get that opportunity again.
“We’re not just going to keep handing a guy an opportunity that doesn’t take advantage of it like that.”
Aside from leading receiver Mike Thomas and tight ends Marcedes Lewis and Zach Miller, the Jaguars don’t have a lot of pass-catching options. Receivers Jarett Dillard and Nate Hughes are on injured reserve, special-teams ace Kassim Osgood has just two receptions in the last six games, and newcomer John Matthews spent most of the season on the practice squad. So Hill has a chance.
“Everybody around the league has injuries. We’re not any different than everybody else,” quarterback David Garrard said. “Guys are banged up, but everybody’s banged up. We’re going to have to count on whoever’s out there ready to make plays. ... If they’re open, I’m going to throw the ball to them.”