Article Title: On top of the Hill.
When you go out and ask any San Francisco 49er fan what was the most troubling position offensively last season, the answer is most always wide receiver. Ever since the exodus of premier Pro Bowler wide receiver Terrell Owens the San Francisco 49ers have struggled to field a combination that is both lethal and point producing.
Of course there are many reasons for this when you look at the dynamics of the team and the very fact that the quarterback position with Alex Smith at the helm is still an offensive system in a “cocoon like state,” so to speak.
We haven’t begun to breakout yet as a passing team. In fact if not for the nearly 1700-yards in offensive production from running back Frank Gore we’d have little to talk about from an offensive standpoint. From Brandon Lloyd to Antonio Bryant, Terrell Owens want-to-bee’s has never really materialized yet both on and off the field.
In fact the same drama and individualistic overbearing confident behavior Terrell Owens had as a 49er was introduced to both former athletes like a viral infection that ran out of control. Both Lloyd and Bryant distanced themselves both from the their teammates and ultimately from their coaches and fans in general. Never has there been so much internal strife within the confounds of this offensive dynasty since the days of Jerry Rice and John Taylor.
The University of Utah’s Alex Smith has struggled to find a wide receiver that he is truly compatible with. Yes he has had his moments from game to game and from time to time with some of them, but there hasn’t been a solid bond between quarterback and receiver since the days of Jeff Garcia to Owens and Steve Young to Jerry Rice period.
This in fact poises an interesting problem that Mike Nolan and wide receiver’s coach Jerry Sullivan have been aware of. The development of Alex Smith both as a human being and as a productive quarterback will be the keys to the offensive passing attack in a nutshell.
The other facts are finding a wide receiver that builds that relationship with Smith and takes it to the next level by anticipating exactly what the other is thinking and planning at all times.
Much like Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison do now in Indianapolis as a perfect duo that works and plays together relentlessly on a very consistent basis. This is the type of relationship Smith needs to develop and nurture over time to form and build upon a bond that is inseparable from beginning to end in everything that they both do together.
Both Lloyd and Bryant never worked out or came close to making that happen. The fact that both have been ceremoniously shown the door because of their numerous infractions against the true grain of the team has left Alex Smith still searching for that one special athlete that will help him deliver those outstanding results once an for all.
We may just have found the ace in the hole that will help Alex Smith deliver one touchdown strike right after another. In the 2007 NFL draft many 49er fans had the wide receiver position placed high on the draft order next to the defensive positions that were clearly lacking after last season.
Once the first round was over and the second round began 49er fans were left to wonder and scratch their heads as to how could we select a “difference maker,” at wide receiver when we had no pick via a trade in the second round? I was nervous and disappointed at first knowing that 12 other premier wide receivers were selected before we drafted the hidden gem I think we’ve found through Scot McCloughan our Vice President of Personnel.
That man we selected with the 76th pick after giving away our second round pick to Indianapolis for a 2008 first round pick we lost to New England was Washington State’s Jason Hill a proven collegiate wide receiver in the third round of the 2007 NFL draft.
In the twelve wide receivers that were taken in the draft prior to Jason Hill, Southern California’s Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith were receiving the most press coverage as being the best duo in the draft bar none. But the 49ers had done their homework on the collegiate level and the data Scot McCloughan had in his possession compelled him to pick Jason Hill among the talented group of wide receivers that were available.
It has been said more than once that if you ask any PAC 10 Conference defensive coordinator or defensive back within that Conference which receiver they fear the most; they will all say Jason Hill together. This is an athlete that possesses big play ability and has plenty of statistics to back up his words for it.
During the Senior Bowl back in January Jason Hill was playing on the opposite team Mike Nolan was coaching against. Still Jason Hill sought out Mike Nolan to tell him what his personal feelings were concerning the San Francisco 49ers.
“You know he made a point to come talk to me,” Nolan recalled. “He wanted to let me know that he was from San Francisco, that he loved the city and that he’d love to be a 49er.”
Well his time came quickly with the 76th pick in the third round of the 2007 NFL draft. Hill was a multi-talented player in a variety of sports inside the Bay Area where he first made a name for himself. He was a high performer in both football and basketball at Sacred Heart Catherdral High School.
He went on to be runner-up for the City of San Francisco Player of the Year Award as a senior, while also being nominated honorable mention All-Region accolades as a defensive back and wide receiver by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Jason Hill is a family man in that he has had to be a surrogate father to his two younger brothers and three sisters, ever since their dad died just three years ago. He is the eldest of the six children and has been by his mother Laverne ever since. To come back to the city he admires and loves is one of the highest honors that he has ever imagined and to be a 49er even more.
“Playing in front of my family, I seem to play well,” Hill said in a telephone interview from the Bay Area. “Some of my biggest games have come in front of my family; the Colorado game, the California game last year at California, the Idaho game when I had three catches and three touchdowns. I tend to play better in front of my family so coming here to (San Francisco) is great.”
Jason Hill is a hidden gem that some experts may have seemingly overlooked at the NFL Combine conducted in Indianapolis this past February. In fact the twelve receivers taken before him as the first and second rounds ticked by have motivated him to the point of inflammatory combustion in yearning for the exact chance to prove all the football Gods completely wrong in their analysis of him.
This is an athlete brimming with confidence and a chip on his shoulder that has to be played out. The wait up and until the third round stirred animosity inside him to the point that he’ll make every effort to play his heart out on the field with a passion we all want to see.
After being a success at the high school level in both basketball and football Jason Hill went on to play at Washington State as a freshman he played mostly special teams in 2003. However he didn’t waste anytime making a positive impact with the offensive unit despite the limited playing time. He led the Pac-10 Conference players with twelve tackles (8 solos) while on the coverage unit, blocking a punt that he actually returned 25-yards as well.
Jason Hill went into camp with the Cougars in 2004 and came out with a starting job at split end. He went on to execute a record-breaking season that year by being nominated to The Pacific-10 Conference second-team pick and Washington State University MVP on offense. He went on to rank 17th in the nation and third in conference receptions yards (91. 55 ypg).
He set a school season-record with twelve touchdown receptions, leading the squad with 45 receptions and registered as the sixth player in school records to gain over 1,000-yards receiving in a season, with a finish of 1,007-yards. He averaged 22.4-yards per catch, ranking fourth on the school’s annual record report.
“I’ll be ready to play; you can definitely count on that,” Hill said. “I am a motivated guy. I definitely think my motivation will set me apart from anyone the 49ers currently have. I was motivated as it was (before being drafted), but everything I did in college, you can times that by 10 now.”
In 2005 Jason Hill picked-up where he left off despite a few setbacks, suffering a shoulder contusion vs. Oregon State that ultimately sidelined him for the Stanford battle ahead. He went on to earn All-Pac 10 Conference second-team accolades from the leagues coaches that year.
He also ranked third in the entire nation with an astonishing average of 109.7-yards per game receiving, as he hauled in 62 passes for (sixth-best season total in Washington State University history) and went on to break his own season-record with thirteen touchdown receptions that season.
The San Francisco 49ers have Hill on paper penciled in to pair with veteran newcomer Ashley Lelie at the split end, the ‘X” position inside the 49er offense. That same starting position last season belonged to none other than Antonio Bryant, a big talent in the beginning of the season that slowly snuffed itself out as the season progressed.
Ashley Lelie for all intents and purposes is being handed the starting position as his to lose right now, but it is an open competition I believe Jason Hill can win because of the extreme nature of his young physical and mental abilities.
In 2006, Jason Hill was again hampered by shoulder and ankle injuries, missing the team’s final two games and performing at less that 100% ideally in some of the others. He was able to catch 41 passes for 600-yards though (14.6 avg) and collect seven touchdowns in just ten contests. He even went on to block one punt for a 10-yard gain and even caused one fumble.
In all Jason Hill participated in 43 games while with Washington State, he played 31 games on offense. He registered 148 catches for 2,704-yards (18.3 avg) and a University career-record 32 touchdowns.
“He’s a physical player,” Nolan said of Hill. “He’s very good with the ball after the catch. He’s got a good, strong body and he’s a good run-after-the-catch guy. He’s a very good football player.”
Just what Mike Nolan wants in a San Francisco 49er. Vice President of Personnel Scot McCloughan also downplayed Mike Mayock, the NFL Network’s lead college football and draft analyst, who in turn downplayed Jason Hill’s accomplishments at the NFL Combine where he performed and ran 4.32 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which by the way was the second fastest time of any receiver at that event. He also went on to perform a 37-inch vertical leap that placed him well above many others.
Mike Mayock’s comments got back to Jason Hill as he was being compared to Ted Ginn taken by the Miami Dolphins in the first round of this draft, as being a step behind him in overall ability and talent, igniting a fire Hill intends to take to the field in a show of force with a performance that will be rich and wholesome.
Jason Hill’s principal competitor in training camp will be Ashley Lelie so he will start positioning himself to meet that challenge head-on. His makeup next to Lelie will be imposing, as he is more physically gifted than Lelie, who is more of a finesse player who leans on his length and quickness more so.
Jason Hill will also be in the thick of things with a wide receiver mix that includes (Jackson, Lelie and flanker Arnaz Battle). He will also contend with up and coming wide receivers that are climbing the 49er depth chart in 2006 third-round pick Brandon Williams who played mostly special teams last season and two veterans that are on the return in Taylor Jacobs and Bryan Gilmore who was the No. #3 man last season.
The tale of the tape on Washington State’s Jason Hill who stands in at 6-foot-one and weighs 204-pounds and has been compared to Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
Positives: Good size, body control and balance. Can make the tough catch in a crowd and has a powerful stride to work after the catch. Good quickness and gliding acceleration coming off the line, runs crisp routes at good depth sand rarely has a concentration lapses when the ball comes his way. Uses his size as a receiver and also to stay on top of blocks.
Negatives: Has only adequate weight-room strength, but plays strong. Doesn’t have that sudden explosion to leave defenders rocking back on their heels. Can be pushed towards the pocket as a blocker.
Overall: Jason Hill was a productive receiver for a team that had its share of quarterback issues, catching 32 touchdowns from 2004-06. He can be almost anything he chooses to be with a little work and attention to some details.
This is an athlete that with a little more weight room attention and added bulk without losing his quickness could rival that of Terrell Owens himself. I think the mix we have now at the wide receiver position will be ultra-competitive and some real big plays will determine which receivers will fall where in the pecking order so to speak.
Alex Smith needs to find a pair of receivers he is most comfortable with and knows where and when they are going to be on their collective routes and develops a personal bond with each of them throughout the entire season as it progresses. It will be imperative that relationships build and mature into something productive in both scoring and yards after the catch.
With a new and revised offensive line Alex Smith will have the time needed to find his talented array of offensive weapons and make big plays and intermediate plays happen on a more consistent basis. Increasing his percentage, as a quarterback and keeping the interceptions in check will go a long way towards the San Francisco 49ers finding that respectability we have all been waiting for.
Sources of information: SF Illustrated, Sporting News Draft Publication 2007, SF Gate.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.