During Saturday’s practice, Tyreek Hill stared across the line of scrimmage at Marcus Peters — one of the game’s best corners — as the Chiefs’ first-string offense began working on the two-minute drill. And all of a sudden, Hill heard receivers coach Greg Lewis’ voice ring in his head.
“He preaches patience at the line,” Hill explained.
Patience is certainly required against Peters, who boasts elite eyes for the cornerback position and is as good as anyone at deciphering receivers’ routes. So Hill, who was tasked with running a go route, was patient at the line as he deked inside and got Peters to bite just enough to create enough space to rocket upfield with his 4.24 speed.
Quarterback Alex Smith, who has consistently been looking Hill’s way since full-squad practices began Friday, lofted a deep ball right over Peters’ head and into Hill’s waiting hands for a huge gain. First down, Chiefs, and score one for Hill, who is now the odds-on favorite to lead the Chiefs’ receivers in targets following Jeremy Maclin’s release in June.
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“Alex threw a tremendous ball,” said Hill, in his typically deferential manner.
But that play was about more than Smith’s precision. Through three full-squad practices, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Hill has consistently hauled in passes from the Chiefs’ quarterback, both long and short, easy and difficult. He’s also proven to be a devil to cover on the deep ball, and no wideout has pleased the crowd of onlookers at Missouri Western more than he has.
On Sunday, he hauled in one pass in double coverage, and made a diving catch on what appeared to be a deep cross. Hill also gathered in a short pass that was closer to his shoelaces than his numbers on one short route in front of Peters, who has already been beaten deep by Hill a handful of times during camp and praised his underrated route running.
“That’s what people don’t really see — they think he’s just fast, but he’s really a technically-sound receiver, you feel me?” said Peters, an All-Pro selection in both of his professional seasons. “He’s just a little dude. But he’s a little dude (with) a big man’s (mentality).”
Hill’s expanded duties to the “Z” receiver spot vacated by Maclin has seemingly found him on Peters’ side more often than not, and those daily battles with the All-Pro cornerback could prepare him for life as a No. 1 receiver, since the AFC West is loaded with outstanding corners. The Broncos’ duo (Aqib Talib and Chris Harris) is as talented and cocksure as any in the league, while the Chargers’ tandem of Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett is terrific, as well. Even the Raiders boast a big, athletic group, led by veterans Sean Smith and David Amerson and Ohio State first-rounder Gareon Conley.
Peters knows this, which is why he says he still goes out of his way to provide tips to the second-year pro about how to create more separation when running certain routes.
“You’ve got to give him the information because it’s gonna help him — we’ve got good corners in this conference for sure,” Peters said, before naming all the starting corners in the AFC West. “It’s all about getting the ball in his hands and letting him do what he does.”
What Hill did last year was affect the game on offense and special teams. He made the Pro Bowl based on the latter, returning two kicks and a punt for scores, but he also finished second on the team with 61 catches and 593 yards and first with six receiving touchdowns.
The Chiefs’ coaching staff will still task him with influencing the game in both phases, though Hill will likely surrender most of his kick return duties because of his expanded offensive role.
“(Special teams) coach (Dave) Toub and (head) coach (Andy)Reid, they obviously know what they’re doing,” Hill said. “We’ve got De’Anthony (Thomas), Demarcus (Robinson), guys like that who can come in and give the same type of explosive play that I can. Nothing’s going to change; it’s all going to stay the same.
“But will I miss it? Yes. Because it’s another chance for me to score.”
If the Chiefs have their way, however, Hill — who also rushed 24 times for an 11.1-yard average and three touchdowns — will make up for those opportunities with more touches than he had on offense a year ago (85).
“We put a lot on his plate last year and he handled it great,” offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. “I think we were more concerned with making sure we didn’t do too much (with him).”
But with a year in the league under his belt, the 23-year old Hill should be capable of a larger role this season, provided he holds up physically.
“He’s a weapon in so many areas,” Nagy said. “Every defensive coordinator that’s out there is concerned about him because of his speed. We just need to make sure that, as we go forward here, we put him in the right spots, we don’t overuse him. Mentally, you want to stick to that less-is-more mentality so that he can play fast.”
Chances are, playing fast won’t be an issue for a player who measured out as the NFL’s swiftest player a year ago.
And, by the way, it speaks volumes that Peters — who counts football, family and his hometown of Oakland as his most primary passions — seems to enjoy working against Hill, because he knows he’s getting a premium test whenever he does.
“You’ve got to compete with the best if you want to be the best.” Peters said. “He’s one of the best receivers in our league right now, so you’ve got to get work.”