Stephen climbing the hill

DETROIT -- In Wednesday morning's wide-receiver meeting, Sanjay Lal highlighted a video clip from the previous day's practice -- Stephen Hill catching a long TD pass in a one-on-one drill. Hill beat the cornerback so badly that the defender wasn't even in the frame at the time of the catch.

Lal, the receivers' coach, picked that play to show his players because he believes it demonstrates two areas in which Hill has improved from his rookie year:

1. His release from the line: On this play, Hill ran a stutter-and-go, beating press coverage -- an issue last year. "He was sudden with his press release," said Lal, describing Tuesday's play. "He showed good change of direction, kept his shoulders down. It wasn't a casual, lazy stutter, out of control. It was sudden."

2. His body mechanics: A year ago, Hill had a tendency to turn his shoulders on vertical routes, causing him to lose speed. On Tuesday, Hill kept his shoulders square, something Lal pointed out with two different camera angles -- upper and rear views. "His body plane was parallel and he didn't lose any form," Lal said. "I tell the players it's like track. You'd never run 60 meters with your shoulders pointed sideways."

Hill, coming off a disappointing rookie year, is one of the most improved players in camp because he has refined his fundamentals. Because of his college background in a triple-option offense at Georgia Tech, he arrived with little knowledge of a pro-style passing attack.

"Compared to last year, he's really starting to understand why," Lal said. "Last year was getting him from A to B -- and everything in between was new to him. With his God-given gifts, he can do things other guys can't. He's finally starting to use his suddenness and his burst within a route. It's clicked to him the last couple of weeks that, 'Hey, if I do this, look what happens to the DB.'"

Hill acknowledged, "I feel like a different receiver," saying he feels quicker in and out of his breaks. As a long strider, it can be difficult to run some of the routes in a West Coast offense. For instance, there's a triple-move route that requires quick, choppy steps. Hill went to Lal with a question, wondering how he can cut down his stride lengths. Lal suggested that he drop his hips on the second move.

"He's starting to understand his body," Lal said. "He's starting to understand what he can do with his tools."

On Friday night, Hill will be on the same field as fellow Georgia Tech alum and Lions star Calvin Johnson, arguably the best receiver in the sport. The Johnson comparison came up last year when the Jets picked Hill by trading up in the second round -- a move that caused some grumbling in the organization. On draft day, former VP of college scouting Joey Clinkscales was asked about Hill and Johnson.

"He's a 6-foot-4 kid that's 215 [pounds] and runs a 4.32. He's a unique athlete, he really is," he said of Hill. "I mean ... Calvin Johnson, maybe. I'm not going to put that label on him, but from a height, weight, speed [standpoint] ... he's just a unique athlete."

A more realistic comparison might be Demaryius Thomas, another ex-Tech receiver. He caught only 54 passes in his first two seasons with the Broncos, but exploded last season -- 94 receptions for 1,434 yards. Of course, going from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning might have had something to do with that.