Tyreek Hill hauled in the downfield throw from Alex Smith and braced himself. He knew another big shot was coming.
This was Oct. 19, the third quarter of the Chiefs’ 31-30 loss to Oakland, and Hill indeed proceeded to absorb a bit hit from Oakland safety Reggie Nelson that knocked Hill far out of bounds. Hill held on to the ball, however, giving the Chiefs’ first-and-10 at the Chiefs’ 36-yard line.
It was the kind of play a No. 1 receiver is expected to make. Hill, a second-year pro who has been thrust into that role as the club’s new “Z” receiver following the surprising release of veteran Jeremy Maclin, once again delivered. He paid a price for it, as he missed the next several plays while being evaluated for a concussion.
But Hill, the NFL’s fifth-leading receiver, would eventually return, the cause of his absence due to a bloody mouth (according to the team), and be there for his team on a night in which he finished with six catches, 125 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m always thinking of my health,” said Hill, who has recorded 35 catches for 515 yards and three touchdowns so far this season. “I knew what I was alright. The doctors allowed me to go back in. They did a great job testing me, putting me through the protocol. I just want to be out there and help the team any way I can.”
It was the second massive shot Hill –– who is listed at 5 feet 10 but is at least an inch shorter –– had received in as many as five days. Toward the end of the Chiefs’ 19-13 loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 15, he was popped on the tail end of a punt return by fullback Roosevelt Nix and was sent through the concussion protocol. Hill missed the rest of that game, but was eventually cleared and didn’t miss a practice.
“First of all, he is a tough kid –– very tough,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He knows he is a targeted guy, and he keeps battling on everything. He does it week in and week out. He doesn’t want to miss a practice, doesn’t want to miss a play.”
Very few corners can run with him, and his route running and hands are underrated, so whenever defenders get an opportunity to deliver punishment, they relish it and make the most of it.
“He has had everything from his helmet ripped off to his head driven in the ground out of bounds,” Reid said. “All these different things that teams are trying to do to him, he has had done. He doesn’t lose his cool, he gets right back out and competes against it and makes plays. That’s what I see.”
Hill has also impressed his quarterback, Alex Smith, with his mental aptitude for the game. The “Z” receiver has to understand the offense backwards and forward and must also be adept at making sight adjustments, which calls for him to change his route mid-play depending on the defensive coverage.
“Certainly, you have to be able to do a little bit of everything –– we do a lot with our ‘Z’ all over the place,” Smith said. “I think you have to be able to handle that, and be able to handle it mentally and all those things.”
But it appears Hill is faring well in those areas.
“He is the last guy I am reminding about things,” Smith said. “He is maybe the guy we do the most with, I think, as far as verbiage and moving around and moving parts, (but) you never have to remind him.”
Smith said the other thing that’s stood out is how hard Hill has worked to transition into being a receiver full time.
“I think he just stays at his craft,” Smith said. “He practices hard every day. He is tough, he is out there. A lot of peers, not here, but at that position, that you don’t get that every day, you don’t get that effort level every day, and Tyreek brings it.”
Despite his clear status as one of the NFL’s best young players at his position, Hill –– an All-Pro and Pro Bowler last season for his special-teams work –– remains committed to delivering for his teammates on a week-to-week basis.
“Each and every game, I owe something to my brothers,” Hill explained. “That’s my hard work, my dedication. I go out there and I try to compete for those guys because I expect the same from them.”