In the world of professional sports the results that fans see on game days are generally the culmination of endless unseen hours of work. For young players, that game day coming out party can take months and even years. While some young players can step right from the ranks of college to the NFL, a more extended transition period is more the norm.
]()In New England, fans are hoping the latter is the case with 2004 second-round pick Marquise Hill. The 6-6, 300-pound defensive end out of LSU spent most of last season, quite literally, watching from the sidelines as the Patriots marched to a second straight Super Bowl title. He tasted his first NFL action in the season finale against the 49ers, but in the midst of another offseason continuing to work to learn the system and improve his physical skills Hill thinks he's ready to be a contributor for the two-time defending champs.
But even he admits that potential and practice-field improvements mean little in the bottom line world of the NFL.
"We'll just have to go into camp and see," Hill said recently following a workout at Gillette Stadium. "I can't say what I did in college is what I am going to do here. I haven't played enough games to say what I can bring [in the NFL]. I know I will be a solid backup and try to move into a starting spot eventually. I am going to be an every day guy. I am going to come to work every day. That's all I can basically say right now."
Hill also cautions that his limited playing time as a rookie doesn't necessarily reflect his potential talents or what he might offer in the future.
"I don't think it was my ability, I just think it was the situation I was in at the time," Hill said of his limited role as a rookie. "I mean you had two solid guys on each side, you had Ty Warren who Jarvis [Green] was backing up and [Richard] Seymour. So they brought me in to learn behind those guys and then eventually I will move into a playing mode. Eventually I am going to be in a better position because I know more. I have been around the system more."
Hill knows at some point though he is expected to contribute for a youthful Patriots defensive line that includes former first-round picks Seymour, Warren and Vince Wilfork, as well as recent draft picks Hill and Green. Add restricted free agent acquisition Rodney Bailey to the mix and New England has invested heavily in its defensive front in recent years, an investment that brings expectations to both the individual players and the group as a whole.
"There is some pressure," Hill said. "You don't want to let the people in the front office down because they drafted you. The main thing is to just go out there and show them, 'You didn't waste your draft pick.' So there is a lot of pressure with all of us, first rounder, fourth rounder, second rounder. It doesn't make a difference."
The potential that made a Hill a second-round pick, defending both the pass and the run from his end position as he gets a better hold on New England's 3-4 front, is something that he showed hints of in his limited debut against San Francisco.
"I think I excel whenever the opportunity presents itself against either the run or pass," Hill said giving a self-scouting report. "In the San Francisco game last year, for the time I did play I almost had two sacks and I knocked the ball out of [quarterback Ken] Dorsey's hands. People see that, the coaches see that and they say, 'Well, there is life in this kid. He's getting pressure on the quarterback.' And it isn't like anyone ran right over me when I was out there. It's one of those things that when I line up and play, people know that I am out there. You don't have to worry about me disappearing out there on the field."
There is certainly no regret on Hill's end about spending his rookie season working in the shadows, never really getting the chance to show his stuff.
"To me it was one of those things were I came out early so I am here, I just so happen to get drafted by the best team in the league," Hill said. "If I was with San Francisco last year, I mean they weren't that good, and if I was sitting the bench there then I would have raised [heck]. But I am with the best, I am learning from the best. I am learning from the people who know how to win games. So I gained something, I didn't lose anything. Plus it's longevity. I am not banged up. I learned. I was able to bang with the best at practice. From what I see out there our practices are more intense than some games that I've watched. I learned a lot just being here. It's not something to bicker about.
"I got a year under my belt in the league and I have a Super Bowl ring. I can't complain."
Even beyond the success Hill witnessed on the field and the experience he gained working behind some of the best players in the game, the quiet New Orleans native also sees his personality as a perfect fit for Bill Belichick's team.
"I am not one of those hot dog guys," Hill said. "You won't hear me talking a whole lot of trash. And that's how this team is. We have good players. We have great players. But you don't hear them telling everybody how good they are. They just go out there and play. So this is the kind of team I want to be on -- just a bunch of guys.
"I am not looking for the spotlight. You wont' see me appearing anywhere. I am just an everyday guy."
So while he's not looking for the spotlight, after a season in the background Hill hopes he gets the opportunity to shine as an every game guy for New England in 2005.
"I think I am ready," Hill said looking ahead. "But only time will tell when I get on the field and start hitting again. I think I am ready. But who knows."