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Hills on guard for Steelers

Posted Aug 21, 2011

Steelers players were off this past Friday, a chance to rest up after playing the Philadelphia Eagles the night before. Only a handful of them stopped by the team’s practice facility to get a quick workout in, before heading out.

But late in the afternoon Tony Hills wandered in, met briefly with offensive line coach Sean Kugler and then settled in to the team meeting room to watch game film. He didn’t have to be there, but he knew it couldn’t do anything but help him.

“You want to see the things you do well and the things you didn’t do well and correct them when you get on the field,” said Hills. “You don’t build a house without a plan.  I am trying to be the best I can be at guard, but I have to start laying the foundation, not just physically but mentally. Me being a visual learner I get to see what I mess up so I can fix it and the things I do right I store them in the bank and go out and try to repeat them.”

The coaching staff was heading in to a meeting when Hills arrived, so he was on his own to watch film. Well, almost. His wife Brittany was with him, so instead of her just hanging out and waiting for him, she sat right beside him and as Hills watched and took notes, she offered input as well.

“She’s told me when I get tired I need to stay lower and stop playing so high,” said Hills. “I took that into consideration. Everybody is coaching me at this point. At home we watch film a lot. She says the same thing. When I come out here and get tired I hear her voice in my head so I try to work on that as well.”

Hills has a lot he is working on these days as the tackle switched positions late in training camp and is in a battle for the starting right guard job, along with Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky.

He started at guard against the Eagles, but it wasn’t for long, and not because of the way he was playing. Hills moved back to his natural tackle position because of injuries in the game to Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert.

“You never know with football. There are always injuries so you never know where you might play,” said Hills. “The prime example was the Philadelphia game. I practiced at right guard the entire week and didn’t take any tackle snaps and then I had to go play tackle. They are not going to say he didn’t take any tackle snaps, what are we going to do. They are going to expect you to go out there and do your job and I expect the same out of myself.

“I started out as a tackle here so footwork and hand placement change, but it’s still football. I went out there and battled and battled hard. I still have some technique things that need to be fixed. That comes over time with more reps, with playing. As far as effort, energy and physical are things I can control and I feel good about those.”

Hills was back to work at guard in practice over the weekend, having some moments where he wasn’t happy with himself, but knowing that it’s all part of the competition and the learning process.

“I am like a sponge right now,” said Hills. “I watch everybody. I watch the young guys, the older guys. I try to pick up on little things. I just want to be the best and to do that you have to come out on the field and put it to work.

“I am a competitor and I am going to go out there and compete each week. Right now I have an opportunity to start and I want to take it and run with it. I want to be the best. I want to keep working.”

While the desire to win that starting job is the prime motivator for Hills, who has seen action in only four games over his first three seasons, there is something else that is pushing him and giving him that sense of urgency. The Hills are expecting their first child, and he knows it’s not just his teammates who will soon depend on him, but also a new baby.

“First it was just me and my wife and she was my responsibility,” said Hills. “When you know you are brining a child into this world there is more is on your shoulders. It’s my job to provide. This opportunity God has given me to play football, and right now at the guard position, I have to take advantage of it. I refuse to let anything stop me, whether it is fatigue, the learning curve or anything else. I am going to go in swinging, fighting, head first because that is the only way I know how to go.

“I want to let the Steelers know they drafted me here for a reason, to go out there and compete and be a great player here in the organization. It’s a tradition here, especially on the offensive line. I want to keep it up and have the guys be proud of me and they have another guy in the trenches willing to go to battle with them every week.”

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