Asked about emerging defensive tackle Jordan Hill, his Seattle Seahawks teammates talk about a knack he has for arriving at the football.
And for being in the right place in a timely manner, for making the kind of big plays that aren’t always common to the stout men who inhabit the position.
Last season, in a six-game stretch while filling in for injured Brandon Mebane, Hill racked up 5.5 sacks, an interception and three fumble recoveries.
His own injuries have sidelined him occasionally in his three seasons since being drafted out of Penn State, but his productivity per snap is ridiculous.
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Although a backup in the first three games this season, he’s the Seahawks’ fourth-leading tackler (11 total) with a fumble recovery and three tackles for loss, second only to Michael Bennett’s four.
“He’s always been great at finding a way to get to the ball, with sacks or fumble recoveries,” linebacker K.J. Wright said. “Even in practice, every time the ball is on the ground, he finds a way to get it.”
At 303 pounds, Hill is so athletic that Wright said he sometimes looks like a linebacker when asked to fall back into pass coverage on zone blitzes.
“We love him. I mean, he keeps his mouth closed, does the work and makes the big plays,” Wright said. “You can’t get much better than that.”
Well, actually, you can, when you toss in the way Hill reacted last spring when his neighbor/friend/teammate Jesse Williams passed out from the pain of what they would discover was kidney cancer.
Hill raced over to his house, lifted Williams off the floor and rushed him to the emergency room, as coolly as if it were one giant fumble recovery and return for a touchdown.
In a coincidence, when Hill was at Penn State, he helped raise funds for kidney health causes, as his father suffered from diabetes.
Then soon after kidney cancer struck Williams, Hill started a fund to support research and development of treatments for kidney ailments, and hopes to draw pledges for every sack the Seahawks’ defense comes up with this season (https://pledgit.org/seattle-sacks-cancer).
Hill is doing his best to add to the fund and likely will get more chances Monday night, when the Seahawks play host to the Detroit Lions, and Mebane again may miss some time because of a groin injury suffered last week against Chicago.
Hill said he owes a great deal to Mebane, a veteran from whom he has learned “just about everything there is to know about the nose guard position,” he said. “He’s one of the best in the NFL, and I think he’s way underrated.”
The best advice Mebane has offered during Hill’s understudy period? “Play what you see.”
“What it comes down to is being a football player, doing your job, but still just being out there playing football,” Hill said.
He claimed that “having a nose for the ball” is part a matter of good preparation and part about cutting loose and trusting your instincts.
Coach Pete Carroll cited Hill as one of the most improved players on the team.
“He’s been banged up in the past, so we really haven’t had a steady look at him,” Carroll said. “But now that he’s back and going, it’s great to see.”
Yes, last season’s injury was cruelly timed. Hill absorbed what was considered a minor knee injury in the final game of the regular season, but while trying to rehab it he injured his calf to the extent that he was put on the injured-reserve list and had to watch the postseason run to the Super Bowl from the sideline.
“It was frustrating, it didn’t even happen in a game,” he said. “But it made me work the whole offseason trying to make sure not to let that ever happen again.”
Now healthy, he is showing the kind of versatility the Seahawks love in their defensive linemen: He’s built to stuff the run like Mebane but has some techniques and penetration ability that make him a good complement to Michael Bennett.
“He’s one of those guys who does the right thing all the time and always knows what he’s supposed to do,” Bennett said. “I think it goes back to Penn State, where he got some great coaching. He plays hard and has a knack for big plays; he’s going to be a very special player for us.”
In a lot of ways, it seems as if he already is.