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In his first two NFL seasons, Steelers OT Tony Hills didn't appear in a single game, but along the way, he did learn some valuable lessons.
"Patience," Hills said. "That's been the biggest thing. I haven't had a lot of that growing up."
When the Steelers begin training camp on July 30, Hills, 25, will set out to prove his extended apprenticeship merits him playing time. And playing time could be had at right tackle, with starter Willie Colon expected to miss the season after rupturing his right Achilles tendon in June.
A left tackle at Texas, Hills has received practice reps at both tackle spots with Pittsburgh. He said he has taken notice of how Colon, one of the game's better right tackles, plays the position.
"He's a great technician," Hills told PFW this week. "If you watch Willie and how he plays the game, you can pick up a lot — playing with aggression, playing the right way."
Whether Hills will be among the competitors to replace Colon remains to be seen; the Steelers haven't divulged their strategy. Hills told PFW he hasn't been told what the club plans to do but wants to display the improvement he has made as a player in his third summer with Pittsburgh.
"My main focus going into training camp is to let the coaching staff know that I'm versatile and accountable," he said.
Versatility already has proven to be one of Hills' strong suits; a star tight end at Alief Elsik High School in Texas, Hills moved to tackle in college and started on the left side in his final two seasons with Texas. Hills also has proven his toughness and determination battling back from a serious leg injury suffered in his senior year of high school. In the state playoffs, Hills tore the lateral collateral ligament in his left knee and suffered nerve damage in his leg. Hills lost feeling in his left foot and underwent two surgeries to regain feeling in the foot. The injury no longer affects him today, he said.
Though playing time eluded him in the first two seasons, Hills said he stayed sharp by preparing as if he were a starter. This offseason, he has worked hard in the film room and weight room readying for his chance, and he knows making the most of any opportunity he receives in camp will be key.
"At this point in time, it's all about just showing what I can do," he said.
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