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How Hill Hit the Heights at the NFL Combine

Posted Feb 21, 2013

Updated, 6:31 p.m. ET

The NFL Combine experience that has begun again in Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium this week is many things to many people. Heck, it can be a multitude of motions and emotions to each participant.

Take Jets WR Stephen Hill. He saw the 2012 Combine a year ago simultaneously as a rare major sporting event and as just another track meet.

"I prepared for it like it was an Olympics, in a way," Hill told newyorkjets.com this week. "That was because as juniors you really don't get looked at as much and I came out of an offense that really wasn't wide receiver-oriented. So I had to show a lot of skills and a lot of potential coming out of college."

Yet he said there were no butterflies or anxiety attacks for what has been called the biggest job interview that many football players will ever take.

"It kind of felt like that to other people, I guess, but it was like another day to me," he said. "I've run track, so it was basically a mental game — make sure you talk to the coaches, score well on the interviews and things like that."

Hill acquitted himself well in the verbal skills, no surprise, and then he did even better in the physical testing. He came in with a scorching 4.36-second time in the 40, according to the numbers compiled for the past seven combines at nfl.com. That was the second-fastest time among all the invited collegians last year.

He also measured up in two of his other drills at last year's combine  — he leaped a prodigious 11'1" in the broad jump, tied for first overall, and skied to a 39.5" vertical jump, tied for fifth.

Hill was asked which of those "big three" was his best showing that day.

"I feel like it was the broad jump," he said after a thoughtful pause. "I've always tried to break 11 and I never could. I ended up doing it there."

But he admitted to getting pumped up for his 40 by none other than the Jets, the team that would trade up four spots to take him with the 43rd overall pick of the draft two months later.

"I remember them talking to me — they were the last team I had an interview with," he said with a smile. "They asked me, 'What are you going to run in the 40?' I told them I was going to run a 4.3. And they didn't believe me or whatever. So the next day I went in there, 'Wow, you really didn't believe me.' "

What Hill ran exactly will never be known because, unlike a big-time track meet, there are no "official" times in any running drill at the combine and each athlete has multiple watches on him for his sprints and shuttles. Two stopwatches are held by Combine officials and a third is an electronic timer. Then multiple teams have their own hand-held watches on each event. And each team can determine which times to throw out and how many to average to come up with its own operative times.

So Hill's one heat was clocked at 4.30 unofficially and 4.36 by laser timing. And Jets senior personnel executive Terry Bradway said the Jets had two of their own watches on Hill and his time in the Green & White scouting archives will forever be 4.34.

We checked in with Bradway because the combine, like most things NFL, has gotten bigger and bigger over time but there was a time when even semi-official times, distances and reps were hard to come by for reporters and fans.

For instance, the Jets Combine Bests chart that has now gone live on the Radar goes back only to 2006 because that's how far back the nfl.com results go (or back to '07 in regard to the 225-pound bench press). But which Jets-to-be stood out at the combines in the early 2000s? Bradway remembers, since he was the Jets general manager for six years.

"I went back and looked at it, and it was really funny because of all our No. 1 picks [from 2000-05], Bryan Thomas was the only one that worked out, and even he didn't do a whole workout because he tweaked his hamstring on his second 40. He was 266 pounds and ran a 4.49 and did 33 reps on the bench."

The other Jets first-rounders such as Santana Moss, Dewayne Robertson and Jonathan Vilma chose to be among the large number of top picks who chose not to work out at the combine in those ancient days.

"You were probably getting about 70 percent working out," Bradway said. "Now with all the camps and training sites and the fact that the combine's on TV, we're getting closer to 85 percent working out, and the ones that aren't have legitimate injuries. It's a very rare guy now who's not doing anything by his own choice."

Still, Bradway recalled some impressive efforts by future Jets draftees:

■ KR-CB Justin Miller (second round, 2005) ran a 4.46 in the 40, verticaled 41.5" and long-jumped 10'8".

■ WR Jerricho Cotchery (fourth round, 2004) "had a pretty good workout": 4.52 in the 40, 3.91 in the 20-yard shuttle, 6.93 in the three-cone drill, 36" vertical jump and 10'1" long jump.

■ S Kerry Rhodes (fourth round, 2005) had a 42" vertical.

The top Jets from 2006 forward are detailed in the accompanying blog and chart. They include TE Dustin Keller, who had a killer '08 combine with top efforts in the vertical and broad jumps, three-cone and 20 shuttle; DE/LB Vernon Gholston, who also in '08 had the best bench showing by a Jet-to-be in recent memory, WR Clyde Gates, who made some big leaps in '11, plus Hill and Davis a year ago.

"Life-Changing Experience"

New general manager John Idzik and his draft team will be paying close attention to all the times, distances and reps this week, of course, as well as to the equally important interviews and medical reports from all the participants.

Meanwhile, Hill, who now worries about making big progress from his rookie NFL season, will never forget what happened when he trained his focus on the Indianapolis Olympics and made his first big stride toward the Jets.

"The combine, I guess it was a bit of a life-changing experience," he said. "One day you're not in the spotlight, now you are. You've got to keep that. Basically I just took a day-by-day attitude, making sure I enjoyed that moment but now I have to move on to pro ball."

"Stephen needs to be a lot better than year one," head coach Rex Ryan said during a 16-minute Q&A session with reporters as the Combine got under way this afternoon. "He's a guy that has a lot of ability. His ceiling is really high. Like many guys as rookies, many receivers coming into this league as rookies, they have a lot of inconsistencies. Some weeks he was outstanding and other weeks not so much.

"But I expect him to improve by leaps and bounds going into year two."

Leaps and bonds? Sounds like that's right up Hill's alley.

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