Hill Playing End Game

Injuries have forced Penn State sophomore D-lineman to move from tackle to end. He'll be one of the keys if the Lions hope to contain Denard Robinson Saturday.

Jordan Hill finds himself at defensive end these days. Now the idea, for him and everybody else on the Penn State defense, is to find Denard Robinson.

It's not easy to do. The Michigan quarterback comes to Beaver Stadium Saturday night as the Big Ten's top rusher (1,096 yards, 8.0 per carry), as well as the conference leader in total offense (2,415, or 345 per game). He is second in the nation in both categories.

Robinson has run for nine touchdowns and thrown for nine more, while completing 67.8 percent of his passes.

“The hardest thing with him is probably his speed,” Hill said. “That's been the hardest thing for all the defenses he's gone against.”

So the idea, Hill said, is for the defensive tackles to get some push in the middle, and for the ends to keep containment on the outside.

Hill, a 6-1, 309-pound sophomore, was moved from tackle to end last week because of injuries to Eric Latimore and Jack Crawford. He made his first career start in the 33-21 victory over Minnesota, recording six tackles, three of them solos.

It was the first time he played end, he said, since his freshman year at Steel-High, a midstate power.

“I don't think it was that difficult to go out (to end),” he said. “The only thing that was different was playing in a lot of space and not getting double-teamed as much.”

He is continued to practice with the first team at end this week, though he believes his future lies back inside, at either nose tackle or tackle.

“I'm interchangeable at both of those,” he said. “I'll be more effective if I'm interchangeable.”

Hill made a verbal commitment to Rutgers after his junior year at Steel-High. But his recruitment heated up after he led Steel-High to a second straight Class A state title his senior year, a year that also saw him named Associated Press co-Player of the Year. And when Penn State assistant Larry Johnson (his current position coach) made an offer, he accepted.

As with most high school players, he had to get up to speed, literally, with the college game.

“It's way quicker,” he said.

And he had to refine his technique.

“In high school,” he said, “it was just get upfield, make a play.”

But by the sixth week of the 2009 season he was seeing game action, and he would ultimately appear in eight games off the bench. He was credited with 12 tackles, and his first career sack came against Michigan.

This year he has 18 tackles in seven appearances, including last week's start.

The defense as a whole is fifth in the Big Ten, scoring-wise (18.4) and in terms of yardage allowed (331.7). It is second against the pass (187.9) and eighth against the rush (143.9), while getting only nine sacks. Just two conference teams have fewer.

“We're going to keep working at it,” Hill said of the latter stat, “and hopefully we'll get better.”

While formulating their game plan against Robinson, the Lions have spent some time looking at tape of Michigan State's 34-17 victory over the Wolverines on Oct. 9, a game in which the Spartans limited the Michigan QB to a season-low 86 yards rushing on 21 carries, and also intercepted him three times, twice in the end zone.

“That's probably about the closest team we can simulate,” Hill said, while adding that the Lions do some things a little differently. “It definitely helps, seeing what another team did to contain him.”

Also helping is the work of junior wide receiver Evan Lewis, the scout teamer who has been charged with mimicking Robinson in practice.

“He's been doing a good job, too,” Hill said. “He has (some) moves I didn't know. He's little. He's back there, moving around the whole time. It's hard to contain him.”

Not as hard as the real thing, of course. The Lions will likely find out about that Saturday.

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