Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary when Will Hill was cut by the New York Giants.
Oh, how times have changed.
Last year, Hill spent nearly two months without a team before the Ravens signed him on Aug. 27. He practiced for a week and a half before serving a six-game suspension for a repeat violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
Hill showed flashes of his potential upon his return. He started eight of 10 games, posted 42 tackles and posted one interception, which he returned 44 yards for a touchdown in New Orleans.
But he was never up to full speed, and wasn't able to save an injury riddled secondary that slogged through a difficult campaign, ending with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady picking it apart in the divisional playoffs.
Now Hill enters the summer's Organized Team Activities (OTAs) as one of the secondary's most integral players in a hopeful turnaround.
"I almost say [he is] light-years ahead of where he was last year," Head Coach John Harbaugh said last week.
Hill is so far ahead for three main reasons: he's had more time to prepare, he's in fantastic shape and he's personally matured.
Hill is slated to play a full 16-game slate for the first time in his career. The former undrafted rookie played in 12 games each of his first two seasons with the New York Giants. By the time Hill was eligible to play six games into last season, Harbaugh said he had built up "a lot of rust, especially for a guy just learning the system."
Now Hill has had 12 games (including the playoffs) and a full offseason in Baltimore to prepare. He won't be thrown into the fire like he was a year ago.
"[He] came in kind of late and under challenging circumstances," Harbaugh said.
At the end of last season, Harbaugh challenged Hill. He asked Hill whether he was going to come back a better player, and whether he would have a clean slate in terms of off-the-field troubles.
"I saw Harbs challenged me. I was here more than he was," Hill said with a laugh. "I was here showing the coaches that I can be one of the guys that they can really count on. I want them to come to me in times of despair. I don't want there to be a question in their mind because I put in the time."
Hill said he's come in around 5:30 every morning to work out. He wanted to get in before coaches arrived during the offseason. He smiled and said he's added "just a little bit" of bulk this offseason, but Hill looks even more muscular than last year in his upper body. He looks like he could be a linebacker.
Once he was able to meet with coaches, Hill spent extra time with Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees and Defensive Backs Coach Chris Hewitt. He would sometimes come in, work out, go home, then come back to the training facility a little before he knew coaches were set to leave, just to talk some more.
He said he wants to go over all the things that can possibly happen on the field, learning all the potential threats in certain coverages.
"You get to a certain point in your career," said the 25-year-old Hill, who is entering his fourth season.
"When you first come in as a rookie, you just want to hurry up and learn the system so you can get on the field. Then the next year you think you figured out everything, so you want to get in and get out. As you mature in your career, it's about getting better. It's not just about individual goals, but team goals. The best way you can help the team is by knowing everything."
Hill said there's no way he would have spent so much of his off time at the team facility in previous years. He said he would be by himself, worry about himself. He also said he was more into the party scene when he first came into the league.
"Now instead of the 'me,' it's 'us' and 'we,'" he said. "Being in this profession is a dream. Once you get in it, you want to go there and do this, and you've got the funds to do it. Now I realize this is short-lived. I'll have plenty of time to do that. I want to make the best of this opportunity."
Now instead of nightclubs, Hill spends a lot of time bowling (his high score is a 256) and with his five-month-old daughter, Brielle. It's his fifth child, but first girl.
"Having to deal with a little girl, it changes you," Hill said.
Hill sometimes brought his family to the team facility while he worked out, and Harbaugh saw him pushing a stroller down the street in Owings Mills.
Hill has also been hanging out with his fellow teammates and recent new fathers, Terrence Brooks, Asa Jackson and Jimmy Smith. Hill and Brooks went to Six Flags with their families during the Memorial Day weekend. Hill said it has built camaraderie on and off the field.
"I just think he has really dug in to have a great season, and we'll see how it goes for him," Harbaugh said. "But right now, he looks the part."