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Hill thrilled with opportunity


You needn't talk to Jason Hill long to realize he gets it.

The reality in the NFL is that for a lot of players, real opportunities don't happen every season. The bigger reality is that for some, they don't happen at all.

Hill, a wide receiver entering his first full season with the Jaguars and his fifth in the NFL, is less than a year removed from a frustrating situation in San Francisco. Now, he has a chance to not only start, but to potentially develop into a No. 1, go-to receiver for a team that believes that just may be possible.

That's big-time opportunity. Hill knows it, and he's savoring it, too.

"I'm excited about it," Hill told late Friday morning following the first of two Jaguars 2011 training camp practices.

"This is what you work for. You see guys around the league get an opportunity, and you sit back and say, 'Man if I had that opportunity, this is what I would do with it.'"

Hill speaks from experience. Until midway through last season, he was that guy.

Hill, a third-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft by San Francisco, spent three and a half seasons with the 49ers. He showed flashes, starting three games, playing in 34 and catching 40 passes for 413 yards. Yet, he never emerged as a long-term starter. His best stretch came late in the 2008 season, a season in which he caught a career-high 30 passes for 317 yards, but the 49ers released him after last year's training camp.

He re-signed with San Francisco shortly thereafter, and played in two games, and when San Francisco released him in November, the Jaguars – who liked him when he was coming out of Washington State – claimed him the following day.

His time in San Francisco was difficult, Hill said. Maintaining confidence was not.

"I can play," Hill said. "I just didn't get the opportunity I wanted to show I could play."

Even considering the opportunity, Hill said the transition last season wasn't easy. A new team. A new climate. A new time zone. A new schedule. New teammates. New offense.

"It was a whirlwind," Hill said.

But it was also a real chance to show what he long had believed, and what his 49ers teammates – a group that included Isaac Bruce – had told him: that he had the ability to play and play well in the NFL. He played the final six games of the season, starting one and catching 11 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown.

"I think I pulled it together pretty well," Hill said. "I think I learned the playbook pretty well. I put in long hours – early morning and staying here late with the receiver coach."

Hill said the reality is the NFL lockout that ended Monday didn't help his situation. Ideally, he said he would have spent the off-season in organized team activities, minicamps, workouts and meetings with teammates and a system that are still relatively new.

Instead, he worked out at California-Berkeley with a group of NFL players that included Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. He also spent a week in Jacksonville, working with Jaguars quarterback David Garrard on the field and meeting at Garrard's house to go over the playbook, and from that, Hill said he believes he is as prepared as possible.

"I was ascending at the time (late last season)," Hill said, "so I was like, 'We've got to get back. I've got to keep that feeling.' I ended the year feeling pretty good and signed an extension. I wanted to keep it going, but we're back at it, so it worked out well."

Hill said he learned from his time in San Francisco, and that his confidence never wavered. He also never stopped working while there, always keeping in mind that if his chance didn't come with the 49ers, it could come somewhere else.

"I think that paid off late last year, and it's really going to pay off now," Hill said. "This is my time where instead of sitting back wondering what would I do with it, now I'm in the meat of it. Let's get it going. I'm excited about it. I've prayed on it. I've been looking forward to it and I'm going to let it rip.

"A lot of guys wish for that opportunity to be laid in front of them. Now, it's time for me to rock it. I've been training. My mind is right. My body's right. My heart's here. I'm ready to rock."

Those are positive words, and Hill from every indication is focused. The Jaguars, after letting veteran Mike Sims-Walker go to free agency, need a player to step up as a No. 1 receiver. There is a chance that player could be Mike Thomas, but Hill possesses the speed and athleticism to move into the role.

And if that's a rare opportunity for a fifth-year veteran, it's just as true that Hill knows that, and he's as ready as he knows how to be to take advantage of it.

"This game is gone like this," Hill said, snapping his fingers. "I have to take it like that, that it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It may not come again. The window is so small in this league that you've got to get what you can from a play standpoint.

"I'm anxious to get the games going so I can get going. I'm ready to go."

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