Notebook: DT Hill adjusting to new role

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
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Jordan Hill knew expectations for him were high entering this season. He couldn't forget. A tour bus features his mug, and his name is plastered on two awards lists.

[+] EnlargeJordan Hill
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJordan Hill's stats have diminished because he's the subject of constant double-teams, but the senior is embracing his new role.
He expected to take over for Devon Still, who was drafted in the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals, and build off last season. He didn't expect this. He didn't know he'd tackle just one ball-carrier in the backfield through four games.

"It's been really different to me, especially the first two games," Hill said. "I was really game-planned around. Teams were running away from me and double-teaming me. ... It's a little different from what I've been used to."

After Ohio, he shifted from the one-technique -- just outside of the center -- to his usual three-technique spot just outside the guard. He has recorded just five solo tackles this season, but he said he's becoming more accustomed to his role.

"I've come a long way, I would say. I'm just getting used to it and accepting it's going to happen," he said, referring to double teams.

Hill said he felt most comfortable this past week, and it showed. He finished second on the team in tackles with seven, forced a fumble and recorded a sack.

The senior DT said he's learned, when two linemen come at him, he just has to focus on one. He can't take on both players at once, and he knows he'll likely face double-teams throughout the season.

"Knowing that someone's game-planning against you is a good thing, I guess," he said. "It has to leave somebody open, whether it's another defensive tackle or a lineman or a linebacker, somebody has to be free. You can't be selfish."

Practice makes perfect: If one element stood out in Wednesday's open practice, it was the lack of cohesion in the passing game between the quarterbacks and tailbacks.

Matt McGloin and Steven Bench threw six straight incompletions at one point. McGloin often overthrew the running backs, and his tailbacks didn't help him during the drills.

Curtis Dukes dropped two balls, while Michael Zordich -- who caught four balls Saturday -- watched one pass deflect right off his hands during the position drills.

Belton to make return?: Bill Belton practiced every day this week, and he looked just fine on Wednesday. Both of his ankles were wrapped in tape, and he seemed quick.

Penn State might gradually introduce him back into the game, but Belton finally seems to be mostly recovered from his ankle sprain. He played wide receiver last season, so his hands out of the backfield are the best on the team.

Odd pregame ritual: Some players listen to music, others might say a prayer or maybe wear some lucky socks. But Miles Dieffenbach and John Urschel? Well, Dieffenbach reads some brain-teasers to his fellow offensive guard.

"I started a pregame ritual last week, where I find some intense brain-teasers and see if he can get the answers right," Dieffenbach said. "He didn't get them right against Temple, so we'll see how he does this week."

Strengths: Cornerback Stephon Morris and linebacker Gerald Hodges weren't shy about explaining what they do well ... but Derek Day seemed a little hesitant.

Morris took pride in his press technique on man-to-man coverage, including his tackling, while Hodges believed his forte was coverage.

"When I see a tight end coming across the field, my eyes light up," Hodges said. "I like to cover, I think that's one of my strong points."

Day said he didn't really think he had a specialty. "I think I can block," he said. "I think the coaches trust in my blocking abilities, and I think my vision is pretty good."

Playing differently: Illinois quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole bring two separate skill-sets to the game. One is a pocket passer, the other can scramble -- and Penn State has to be prepared for both.

"We know, with a pocket passer, we can blitz him and try to get him out of the pocket and get him erratic a little bit," Morris said. "With a person like Scheelhaase, we can't let him get out of the pocket because he'll make plays."

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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