LIONS INSIDER

Lions just scratching the surface with DT Sammie Hill

Posted Sep 21, 2012

Hill, 6-foot-4, 330, has become a dominant player in the middle of the Lions defense. He’s been directly responsible for two of Ndamukong Suh’s sacks on the season and is rounding into an important piece of the Lions rotation at defensive tackle.

Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said Friday that he has a running joke with fourth-year defensive tackle Sammie Hill about getting through this fourth NFL year so he can graduate.

Graduate?

Cunningham wonders where Hill would be now if, instead of going to small Stillman College to play football, he’d ended up at Auburn or Alabama. Cunningham said if the latter had been the case, then he probably wouldn’t have ended up in Detroit.

“Our first year together … You know, I said ‘there’s no telling. You probably wouldn’t be standing in front of me. You would’ve got drafted a lot higher,’” Cunningham said of Hill coming from the small Division II Alabama college that plays in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“And at the end of that meeting that night he came back and he said ‘Gun, tell me the truth. What do you think would’ve happened if I went to Auburn?’ I said ‘You probably would have been a second round draft choice at least, you know?’

“He has that kind of ability and now he’s rolling into the equivalent of a four-year player. He’s really been coached and it’s not Stillman’s fault, you know. They don’t have the people you need to develop a guy like that. But you can see after four years with us he’s really come a long, long way.”

Hill, 6-foot-4, 330, has become a dominant player in the middle of the Lions defense. He’s been directly responsible for two of Ndamukong Suh’s sacks on the season and is rounding into an important piece of the Lions rotation at defensive tackle.

“Our defensive line coach was a linebacker and our defensive coordinator and linebackers coach was a defensive end,” Hill said of his time at Stillman, where he still holds the record for tackles for loss with 44.5. “It was king of opposite, but he knew what he was doing.”

Hill played defensive tackle his first two years at Stillman but was then moved to defensive end for his junior and senior seasons.

“Going from defensive end to defensive tackle is a big difference (in the NFL),” he said. “I knew it was going to be difficult for me because I had never played it before."

There was an adjustment period for Hill, and he learned on the fly in the NFL. He started 12 games for the Lions as a rookie before settling into a rotational role with the additions of Corey Williams and Ndamukong Suh in 2010.

“Sammie brings something that a lot of guys ain't got,” said guard Rob Sims. “He’s got unique size and power. He’s a load, no matter who you are. You can compare his power to a Justin Smith (49ers All Pro defensive tackle). He really gives me problems when we go one on one at times. He’s a good player and he’s going to be a really good player.”

The Lions think so, too, which is why they spent $1.26 million on a restricted free agent tender for their former fourth-round pick this offseason. Hill is an unrestricted free agent after the season.

“Sammie’s improved every year in every way from experience to technique, strength, and all those things and improved his condition,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. “He probably weighs maybe a little bit less than he did as a rookie, but he’s in much better condition. He’s developed very nicely and when he’s out there he makes plays.”

It hasn’t shown in the stat book, but Hill, 25, had his hands on both quarterbacks in the Lions’ first two games this season and each time they just eluded him to later be corralled by Suh.

“I told (Suh) that I’m like Chris Paul,” Hill said in locker room Friday. “As long as I give an alley-oop … they give me one back.”

Hill is probably playing his best football right now and there’s a feeling among coaches that they’re just starting to scratch the surface with him.