You can say this much for Browns GM Andrew Berry: he does his homework.
His list of potential issues and problem areas is written in Sharpie so that it can’t be erased. Last year? Offensive line, tight end, backup quarterback, fullback, safety, linebacker.
This year? He used White-Out on the first four and kept his notations on the final two. Plus, he added: third wide receiver, kicker, swing tackle, safety, kick returner, pass rusher, defensive tackle and cornerback.
Cornerback? Really? Denzel Ward is a Pro Bowler and former first-round draft choice. The other side is supposedly going to be former second-rounder Greedy Williams, right? Well?
On Thursday, Berry signed former Los Angeles Rams’ cornerback Troy Hill to a four-year $24 million deal.
So, who exactly is Troy Hill? And if Ward and Williams are the expected starters, why did Berry sign another veteran to play backup for $24 million?
Ohio native and a fallen Championship
Troy Hill, now age 29, was born in Youngstown, Ohio and lived on the south side. His family moved around quite a bit in what would be classified as low income, gang-infested neighborhoods. His uncle was granted guardianship and reminisce of Will Smith’s character in the television show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, Hill was brought to his uncle’s house in Ventura County, California during his high school years.
Hill comes from a large family which a sizable number of them still remain in Ohio.
In the City of Ventura, Hill went to St. Bonaventure High School and played wide receiver and defensive back for the varsity football team. In the fall of 2007, St. Bonaventure went 9-1-0 during regular season play and were the Channel League Champions, a regional division. They went on to become the Southern California Division 3 champions which placed them in the state championship game. They won the state championship by defeating Central Catholic 35-21 and finished 14-1-0.
The following season, the team again went 9-1-0 and again were the Channel League Champions plus Southern California Division 3 champions. They then captured the state championship by defeating Cardinal Newman 28-6 which again ended their season at 14-1-0.
In the fall of 2009, St. Bonaventure went 9-1-0 which included four shutouts and featured scores such as 56-0, 35-7 and 48-0. They won the Channel League once again with the state playoffs next; but not before Hill was named First Team Channel League All-Defense, All CIF-Southern Section Northern Division Team, plus Third Team All-State.
In the playoffs, St. Bonaventure beat Oxnard 35-7 and then Newbury Park 39-0. Their next game was on the road against Westlake, which they lost 17-7 to end their season with an 11-2-0 record - not to mention a chance at a three-peat state championship.
Hill was rated a three-star recruit, was the Number 32 rated CB and ranked #104 nationally. He had a 3.0 GPA. His senior stats more reflected his ability to play the cornerback position which included 32 tackles, five interceptions and eight pass defenses. CB is what he was recruited for and he had many offers from Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, Arizona, Washington State and Iowa State.
He ultimately choose the University of Oregon, home of the Ducks. In February of 2010 while Hill was still attending St. Bonaventure High back in California and just months away from graduation, Oregon was busy performing routine eligibility checks for each of their prized football recruits.
They found a problem with Hill. It seems back in Youngstown, Hill attended Chaney High School during parts of the 2005-2006 school year and basically flunked all of his classes.
When Hill transferred to St. Bonaventure High for the 2006-2007 year, despite not passing any of his courses, he should have been ruled a sophomore instead of a freshman. Therefore, when the 2009-2010 season rolled along, instead of being a senior, he was actually a fifth-year senior which in California is not allowed.
Oregon immediately contacted St. Bonaventure which contacted the CIF, California’s high school sports governing authority.
The two state championships in 2007 and 2008 were not affected, however, the entire 2009 season was. CIF commissioner Jim Staunton ruled Hill was ineligible to play any sports during the 2009-2010 school year which effectively required each win to become a forfeit. The 2009 Channel League championship was revoked and 11 wins were vacated.
As reported in the Ventura County Star, Commissioner Staunton said:
“Effectively, that (the 11 forfeits) is it. This situation is an embarrassment for the school. It is a sad state of affairs as far as the program goes. I am comfortable that the administration at St. Bonaventure knows the rules. This is a school with a long history and has experienced people. This will not likely happen again.”
Oregon was now in possession of Troy Hill’s letter-of-intent. But suddenly, what was that worth?
Their compliance office felt that they had a case to appeal to the NCAA to pursue athletic eligibility for their prized defensive back. After all, the last thing a football program wants is for the NCAA to begin some sort of investigation.
Oregon’s course of action was to submit an eligibility request waiver for Hill, which they did. However, this did not happen overnight but eventually the waiver was granted. Hill began his college career in the spring of 2011 and missed the entire 2010 college season.
Once he was able to suit up, Hill did not waste any time impressing the coaches. He was labeled tough, a hard worker, disruptive in the defensive backfield and a good tackler. In 2011 as an official freshman, Hill played in all 14 games on a team that went 12-2-0, beat UCLA 49-31 in the Pac-12 Championship Game and then won the Rose Bowl 45-38 over Wisconsin. Hill had 43 tackles, one interception and started six games.
For the next two seasons, Hill was primarily a backup and nickel back stalwart. He played in all 21 games with few starts and one pick. As a senior, he started all 14 games and was named Second Team All Pac-12 with 71 total tackles, four tackles for loss, one interception, 18 pass defenses and two forced fumbles.
After going 10-2-0 and an accepted invite to the Alamo Bowl on New Year’s Eve, Hill was arrested eight days before Christmas on misdemeanor charges of menacing and criminal mischief. Oregon suspended him indefinitely. After pleading guilty to the menacing charge, he was reinstated to the team.
Hill left Oregon as the school’s fifth-leading career tackler among their defensive backs.
NFL not so welcoming
The 2015 NFL draft came and went for Hill. He was then signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent. The Bengals inked him to a three-year deal worth $1.58 million. He competed in training camp as a backup cornerback, but was cut before the season opener. He was signed to their practice squad and later elevated to the 53-man roster in early December as the fourth corner. His debut was against the Browns in Week 13 in which he made three tackles in a 37-3 win. Three weeks later, the Bengals waived him.
The New England Patriots claimed Hill off waivers the next day, then cut him five days later. He was claimed off waivers by the St. Louis Rams for their season finale. Hill made the now-Los Angeles Rams roster the following year and had 11 tackles in Week 3 alone. However, on November 22 he was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence when he swerved his white Mercedes into a semi-truck. Hill was subsequently cut, then immediately signed to their practice squad. With three games remaining, he was brought back up to the active roster.
Sean McVay was now the new head coach for the Rams in 2017. Hill was suspended the first two games for violating the NFL’s Substance Abuse Policy. That season he had just three starts and suffered a shoulder injury plus dealt with a hamstring issue. He played in every game the next two seasons with 16 starts, 77 total tackles, two tackles for loss, two QB hits and four interceptions.
The Rams tendered Hill in the spring of 2019 and later signed him to some security with a two-year deal. As reported on therams.com, Hill stated:
“Now I feel like I’m free to play, I can be myself, I can go out there and just work on football and not have to worry about all the other things. Security as a member of the Rams goes beyond the white lines.”
At this point, Hill had three years as a member of the Rams. Now, they had extended him until 2020. And it paid off.
For 2020, Hill busted out of his pro football cocoon. He had 77 total tackles, 10 pass defenses, three interceptions (of which two were for touchdowns), two pressures, two knockdowns, but also had nine missed tackles. His receivers were targeted 91 times in which 64 were completed for a 70.3 completion ratio. Ouch.
The Rams had issues with the salary cap especially since the hard cap number dropped this year, but head coach Sean McVay knew that Hill was an important part of his team’s defensive chemistry leading into the free agency period:
“Troy Hill, what can you say about the ball production, scoring the touchdowns that he did, the versatility. I think a lot of the versatility that we were able to activate with Jalen (Ramsey) was a reflection of also Troy Hill’s versatility. You feel comfortable, because in a lot of instances, you’re saying you’ve got this elite corner in Jalen Ramsey and then you can bump him inside, but who’s the guy that can play off of that and have the ability to play both positions as well? And Troy certainly enabled us to do that.”
He had three interceptions and several defensive touchdowns for the NFL’s top-ranked defense. Hill earned a 76.4 grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) and was named to the PFF in-house Pro Bowl squad. For 2020, he was the NFL Defensive Touchdowns Leader.
The fact that Berry signed Hill to a four-year deal for $24 million would be a head-scratcher if the Browns’ defense played a conventional 4-3 or 3-4, but DC Joe Woods seems to prefer the 4-2-5 for the majority of defensive snaps. That means that either another safety or cornerback is on the field. Or both. If one of the linebackers in this formation is actually a larger safety, then a third corner would be in order.
Therefore, you need three really good defensive backs. The hope remains that Greedy Williams will claim the other outside corner position in training camp opposite Ward. Hill is expected to take on the slot corner role, which he is ideally suited for. He was listed on the Top-100 best free agents of 2021 at Number 49 by PFF. This will allow Hill to play the slot.
According to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com, Hill’s contract has two years that Cleveland can void on the back end if needed thus making it a two-year agreement worth $9 million with exactly half of that guaranteed.
The Browns also just inked Hill’s Rams defensive teammate safety John Johnson to bolster the secondary this off-season.
Hill can play both inside and out so he has very good versatility. He adds another layer of flexibility that can match up with top receivers despite being just 5’- 11”. The unknown area so far is if Williams will indeed come back as expected, and if so, what type of player will he be? The signing of Hill is a huge plus in this regard coupled with the fact that he just completed his best year as a pro and runs a 4.55 40.
Now with the Browns, he has all the physical skills and mental processing to come into training camp and flourish right away. While with the Rams, he served mainly as the third cornerback in a top-rated defense that placed an emphasis on mostly man coverage.
For the past several seasons, the defensive secondary has been viewed as a crutch for the Browns, Now, with the addition of Johnson and Hill to co-habitat with Ward, Ronnie Harrison, Williams, and a healthy Grant Delpit, this unit will soon no longer be a weakness in Cleveland.
Where does Troy Hill fit?
This poll is closed
Opposite Denzel Ward
Strictly a nickel back