Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill hasn’t played a football game since last Nov. 24.
The rust was particularly noticeable Monday when Hill first encountered other elite prospects participating in Saturday’s Senior Bowl. The nation’s top teams participated in bowl games and playing until early January or late December kept bodies in football shape. A postseason ban prevented Penn State from extending its season.
“I started off slow,” Hill said Friday night from Mobile, Ala. “It was very new to be back in pads.”
One day after returning to the field, Hill started showing why many considered him the Big Ten’s top pound-for-pound defensive tackle. By the end of the week, he reached the apex of the North’s depth chart.
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Hill learned Friday afternoon he earned a starting spot for the prestigious all-star game and scouting showcase. Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen and his staff are leading the North team. Raiders defensive line coach Terrell Williams has been working with Hill this week.
“It has been an eye-opening experience, I guess you could say,” Hill said. “It’s good competition each and every day. You have to compete. If you take a rep off, it’s going to show big-time. Everybody is down here to reach their goals. Everybody is going hard.”
Purdue’s Kawann Short, Missouri Southern’s Brandon Williams and North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams are the North’s other defensive tackles. The quartet will share playing time.
Elite offensive line talent pushed the 6-foot-1, 292-pound Hill throughout the demanding practices. Hill spent four years focusing on the Nittany Lions’ opponents, but he quickly realized this week why NFL scouts are high on Notre Dame’s Braxston Cave and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher. Chasing Oregon tailback Kenjon Barner also has proved challenging.
The North and South teams hold separate practices. Kentucky’s Larry Warford, Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson and Alabama’s D.J. Fluker are highly-regarded offensive linemen representing the South. Running backs Andre Ellington of Clemson and Stepfan Taylor of Stanford are among the South’s top skill players.
Every one of Hill’s moves Saturday will be dissected. More than 200 coaches, executives and scouts spent the entire week in Mobile, collecting data for April’s NFL Draft. NFLDraftScout.com projects Hill as a fourth-round pick, but strong Senior Bowl and NFL Combine performances could boost his stock.
Coaches designed this week’s practices to simulate the competition players will experience in the NFL.
“They just wear you out,” Hill said. “You get tired during practice and they want to see you fight through it and see your best when you are tired. Each and every day they try to wear us out and make us feel uncomfortable.”
Hill is fine with the pain, especially if Saturday yields a desirable result.
“Ultimately, I want to win this game,” he said. “It’s about competing.”