Stephen Hill was usually the first player off Georgia Tech’s practice field last year.
This year, he plans on being the last off. He said last year’s 15-catch, 291-yard performance “could have been more of a disappointment,” but his tone made it seem like he wasn’t sure how. This year, a stronger Hill has rededicated himself to doing the extra things that he thinks will lead to better results. Coach Paul Johnson said Hill put too much pressure on himself to try and be the next Demaryius Thomas.
“The expectations were higher than what was accomplished, but you live and learn and Stephen’s working hard and hopefully he can come back, have a good spring and a good year next year,” Johnson said.
The hard work started in the offseason. Hill’s upper arms and forearms are noticeably bigger. He said he wanted to get stronger in both areas so that he could better secure the ball after catches and in jump-ball situations, as well as successfully fight off cornerbacks who try to jam him at the line of scrimmage. He has put on at least 15 pounds of muscle and weighs 215 pounds.
“It’s giving me more of an advantage, being bigger instead of just being tall and lanky,” he said.
He’s also working on the mental aspect of football. He and quarterback Tevin Washington watch film before and after practice, something Hill said he didn’t do enough of last year.
“Me and Tevin have this mindset that we are going to work and be on the same page,” he said.
Tech’s offense needs a wide receiver that can be counted on. There were too many examples of dropped passes or poor blocks that stopped drives.
“It was a learning thing, a stepping stone to get better for this season,” Hill said.
Across from Hill, cornerback Rod Sweeting is also impressing.
Sweeting has played a lot of special teams and in some pass packages his first two seasons. He steadily gained playing time last season and began making plays the more he was on the field. He finished with one interception and seven pass break-ups.
He, sophomore Louis Young and senior Michael Peterson are pushing each other for the two starting cornerback spots in a secondary that must replace all four starters. Sweeting, who added some strength in the offseason and is up to 188 pounds, wants to win one of those jobs. He is working to improve his press-man coverage. He said he would sometimes lunge at receivers at the line last year. This year, he wants to have the patience to watch what is happening and make better plays on passes. Secondary coach Charles Kelly said Sweeting “looks good and smooth.”
“I’ve played a lot of ball,” Sweeting said. “This could be a big year for me.”
Johnson and Kelly are excited about the potential of the back four.
“I have high expectations for them, the whole secondary is athletic,” Johnson said.
Hill said he and Sweeting have had some good one-on-one battles in practice.
“They push us the same way we push them,” he said. “We both want to be good on both sides of the ball.”
Roddy Jones was honored with the Peach of an Athlete Award by the Boy Scouts of America earlier this week. Jones, a senior and A-back, received the award because he is a role model for “athletics, academics, community service and scouting.” … Saturday’s practice is the first that will be open to the public. It will start at 9 a.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium. … Johnson said the team looked OK in its first day of pads. “I think the attitude is good,” he said. Johnson joked that the excitement level made everyone “forget where they are going and what they are doing,” but they are excited about Saturday’s practice, when the players should calm down some. … Offensive lineman Morgan Bailey (sprained ankle) returned for his first practice.
– Doug Roberson, AJC