Another word on Jason Hill

When I included Jason Hill in my recent rundown of declining stocks in Santa Clara, it ignited a pretty fierce debate.

Hill, a San Francisco native and a fourth-year wide receiver out of Washington State, has his supporters. His speed is undeniable, and it seems a lot of fans have been waiting for him to emerge as the 49ers’ clear No. 3 receiver. I wrote that Hill has been dropping passes lately, and met some skepticism.

First, I should say that Hill hasn’t been a disaster in camp, not by a long shot. He makes plays every day, like most of the other receivers. But folks, the truth remains: The kid has been dropping some balls. I’m not saying he dropped them last year in the regular season, or in previous camps, or that he’ll be plagued in the future. Just telling you what I’ve seen over the past nine days.

Hill missed another ball today when David Carr’s pass slipped off his fingertips on a post route. It wasn’t an easy catch, but Mike Singletary clearly put the onus on Hill as he shook his head and said quietly, “Catch the ball.”

Readers had expressed interest in Hill, whose production – 40 catches, 413 yards in three seasons – has never matched his potential. So I asked offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye what Hill had to do to become more integrated in the offense.

Here is what Raye said: “He needs to – and I told Jason that in the spring – he needs a level of consistency of performance. Running fast doesn’t necessarily equate to playing football. He needs to inherit all of the traits for the position and do them in a consistent level and utilize his speed more to his advantage. I think Jason’s been around here for three or four years, maybe four going on five and that’s a long time to play. Now, he is a good special-teams player, which has kept him viable, but he needs to step up and compete in this training camp and prove his ability to play a position so that he gets time, and quality time, in games.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. The question is whether “all of the traits for the position” refers primarily to catching the ball, or whether Hill has also been deficient in route-running or blocking or other skills.

Hill seems like a likable person, and it’s true that he has become an important component on special teams. I’d like to see him live up to his abilities in this league – and I promise to let you know as soon as that happens.

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