Hills taking a step forward


For two seasons tackle Tony Hills has roamed the sidelines for the Steelers, but he hasn't got much further than that.

As a rookie, the fourth-round draft pick from Texas was inactive for all 16 games and the post-season.

His second year he didn't see much action either, playing in only one game on special teams at Baltimore, and dressing for two others but not playing.

"It was hard. It was really hard," said Hills. "You want to go out there and really help. I have never been one to complain. I have always worked hard. I have been waiting in the wings for my chance to go out and perform and be ready when they call."

That lack of playing time weighed heavily on him. But he wasn't about to let it stop him. He knew the only way to get out on the field was to keep pushing himself, even if he wasn't reaping the benefits.

"Any time you are not playing you start to question yourself a little bit," said Hills. "The thing I had to remember is everybody has to wait their turn to get on the field. Once I grasped that concept, I was able to just work on me, fine tune my technique, get stronger in the weight room, get better on film work and breaking down individuals and defenses so when I do get my opportunity I have done it before and I can go out there with all of the confidence in the world and they can trust me."

The 2010 season could be a make or break year for Hills. He has to step it up and show why he is worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster. And it appears that is exactly what he is doing during the preseason, turning in strong performances against the Lions and Giants.

"His confidence has skyrocketed," said guard Trai Essex. "The biggest thing with him is his consistency. He has been a lot more consistent this camp. He has improved tremendously at this point in his career than any other point I saw him. He kept plugging away and I think now people are finally starting to see what he is capable of. I am looking for big things from him."

That change in confidence and better play arrived about the same time new offensive line Coach Sean Kugler arrived. The mental aspects of the game that he was struggling with early on started to click. His confidence started to rise. The pieces of the puzzle began to fit.

"I think the difference between the last two years and now is it's all starting to come together mentally," said Hills. "Technique-wise it's still a work in progress, always is, you are always reaching for the ceiling. Mentally I have an understanding on what it is we are trying to do in the offense and as an offensive line. That is a credit to the hard work I put in but also Coach Kugler and all of the guys. All those guys talking to me, giving me insight and perspective on technique and what we are getting done

"The last couple of years I was trying to figure it out on my own. I wasn't reaching out as much as I should have. This year with Coach Kugs, he is an approachable person. Any time I have questions he would sit me down and explain it in a way I understood. Everybody learns different. He understands that. He sat down and told me what I need to do. He gives us strategies to break down defenses. It helps me in a lot of ways."

Kugler also told him something that he needed to hear right off the bat. He told him there is no depth chart right now, that everyone is going to get a chance.

"That motivated me even more," said Hills. "Coming into your third year you have to improve by leaps and bounds. They want to see what you are capable of. I have had two years to sit and watch and see how the game is played. I have made no excuses. I just want to continue to get better and go out and show what I can do. That started before OTAs. If I want to be the premiere left tackle they drafted me to be, I have to work and work hard."

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