OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens were guilty of bad timing when they signed suspended safety Will Hill a day after the NFL announced a two-game ban for running back Ray Rice. No one, however, accused them of having a bad eye for talent.
Two former NFL scouts told ESPN.com that Hill is the most gifted safety on the Ravens' roster and wouldn't be surprised if the former New York Giants defender is starting at some point this season.
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees couldn't hide his excitement about how well Hill has played in training camp.
“[I wish] he was eligible for the first game," Pees said. "I’ll tell you what: That guy is really a good, good football player. He’s big, he’s fast, smart and been great in the classroom. You talk about a guy coming over from another team catching on -- Day 1 he walked out there and kind of knew what was going on just from sitting in the classroom taking notes and getting back in the playbook and seeing what we have. He’s an impressive guy.”
The biggest question is whether the Ravens can count on Hill this season and beyond. Hill will miss the first six games of the season after his third violation of the NFL drug policies.
Hill's most recent failed test was for marijuana in April, the second time he tested positive for the drug in his two-year NFL career. His other suspension was for Adderall. Hill told his Giants teammates that his latest failed test was due to second-hand smoke at a club.
"It was bad decision-making," Hill said. "I've learned. I'm ready to play football."
Hill said he expected some team to take another chance on him this year. Not surprisingly, the Ravens made a no-risk commitment. Hill, signed a one-year, $570,000 deal with no guaranteed money. If the Ravens cut him, he counts nothing against their salary cap.
Hill, 24, has primarily been working with the third team during training camp. It appears that he still has something to prove to coach John Harbaugh.
"I’m not looking at Will that closely. You look at the guys who are more in your immediate plans, obviously," Harbaugh said. "I’d say he’s jumped out on his own plenty of times. He has to learn how we play some of our coverages -- the way we play them differently than the Giants or what he did in college. He’s done a good job.”
Free safety is not the Ravens' strongest position. Darian Stewart, a free-agent pickup from the St. Louis Rams, is the favorite to start the season opener. Stewart, though, has been a backup for three of his four NFL seasons. It was believed that rookie third-round pick Terrence Brooks was going to compete for a starting job, but he hasn't climbed the depth chart.
So, no one should be surprised if the Ravens give Hill a chance to make an impact when he is available to play in the middle of October.
"With Ozzie [Newsome, general manager] and coach Harbaugh, they believe in me and I believe in them," Hill said. "So, we're helping each other."