Ravens counting on Will Hill to avoid mistakes off the field

The Ravens were already living on the edge when they signed strong safety Will Hill to a contract last July. They moved even closer after Matt Elam tore his biceps during the first week of the 2015 training camp, forcing him to miss the entire season.

Hill was expected to battle Elam for the starting job, but now the Ravens are gambling that Hill won't be a disaster both on and off the field. Now entering his fourth season, Hill has already been suspended by the NFL three times, twice in violation of the league's policy on substance abuse.


A fourth offense would be devastating.

"He has been working very hard, doing a lot of positive things," said Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees. "I'm very optimistic."


Few can predict how these situations will turn out and the NFL had a terrible season last year with the highly publicized domestic cases involving Ray Rice and Greg Hardy. But so far, Hill seems to have made the right moves.

He moved away from near West Orange, N.J., to Owings Mills to train and be close to the facility. He brought his family to daily workouts at The Castle and they have attended just about every training camp practice. Usually after the practice is over, Hill walks over to hug his young daughter or chat with his brother.

He stays in constant contact with general manager Ozzie Newsome, and at times with head coach John Harbaugh, to get words of encouragement.

"During the offseason, I was seeing Ozzie every day, checking in with Harbs every once and awhile," said Hill, 25. "Ozzie just would give me little words about staying out of trouble, and he told me he admired me by having my family around."

The Ravens need Hill to succeed. If he doesn't, they are back in the same situation of a year ago where the secondary often failed against top-tier quarterbacks, especially New England's Tom Brady in the AFC Divisional playoff game.

The Ravens had some room for error with Elam on the roster. Even though he had struggled in his first two seasons, Elam had improved in offseason OTAs and the coaching staff was eager to evaluate him in training camp.

But once the injury occurred, the Ravens became a team on the brink. That left them with backups like Brynden Trawick, Anthony Levine and Nick Perry, not exactly Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu.

So Hill has to be the starter, and stay the starter. He can make mistakes on the field, not off it. And so far, he has avoided both, especially at training camp.

"I think he has been having a good training camp," said Pees. "I thought he had a good spring. I think he has shown up a lot here in camp. I think the thing he does best is when you put the pads on, because he is a physical type player. "

Hill has been one of the team's most physical players. Even in seven-on-seven drills where there is supposed to be limited contact, he lets receivers know he is in the area, even if it's just delivering a hard shove.

A year ago at this time, Hill was limited because he was suspended for the first six games. During offseason workouts, he ballooned up to 232 pounds. Now, he is back down to 223 and closing in on a playing weight of 220.

"Last year at this time I just had to sit and watch everything," said Hill. "I couldn't go out there and showcase what I could. Now, I don't have to wait six weeks to get a warm-up on the field, I'm out here competing."


And Hill is making favorable impressions.

"He got thrown into it last year if you really think about it," said Pees. "I mean, he hasn't had a lot of experience with us, so he keeps getting better."

"Sky is the limit with him," said Ravens secondary coach Chris Hewitt. "He just has to take that next step from where he left off last year. I think he has responded in that aspect."

Hill finished with 39 tackles (27 solo) last season. He also knocked down four passes and intercepted one. He showed that he could play one on one with tight ends like former Saint Jimmy Graham, now with Seattle.

In the Ravens scheme, the safety positions are interchangeable. Hill could be a free or strong safety depending on the formation, which is similar to the philosophy of his former team, the New York Giants.

"I'm very comfortable now," said Hill. "We're no longer working on the terminology, but trying to get comfortable with each other. We're building chemistry. Right now, things are going good, actually great."

The Ravens have no complaints. They have upgraded at both safety positions during the offseason. They signed Kendrick Lewis to play opposite of Hill, and they know Hill will be better after gaining some experience last season.

But it is the off-the-field problems that are a concern. It's something they have to keep an eye on, something that keeps them, as well as Hill, on the edge.

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