The practice squad is a funny thing in the NFL. It is comprised of players that a team has interest in developing, but not necessarily enough to give them a spot on the 53-man roster. They are 10 guys who don’t have a defined role and, when another team has a need, they are available to be plucked at any time if they choose to leave.
When Jake Long tore his Achilles in Sunday’s game at Washington, the Minnesota Vikings saw an opportunity for a player they determined could help them fill the void, signing Rashod Hill away from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As with many practice squad players, teams feel like they have an investment in them, but when an opportunity comes along to get the chance on an active roster – and the pay bump associated with that – few decline the offer because they will start with a foot in the door with their new team.
To land Hill wasn’t going to be easy. A native of Jacksonville who played his college ball at Southern Mississippi, Hill went unselected in this spring’s draft and was signed by the Jaguars as a rookie free agent, eventually being cut and placed on the practice squad.
When the Vikings came calling, Hill and his agent had a long conversation about the merits of coming to Minnesota and the professional opportunity it would provide. With Minnesota expressing an interest in him, suddenly Jacksonville stepped up with an offer to move Hill up to the 53-man roster.
But, given that the Jags had sustained injuries of their own during the season and didn’t promote Hill at that time, the sudden change of heart seemed to be a case of too little, too late.
“Yesterday, they talked about bringing me up (to the 53-man roster),” Hill said on Wednesday. “I talked to the G.M., the O-line coach and the head coach. They wanted to keep me there and didn’t want me to go nowhere. But they handled it with class. I have a good relationship down there. They’re always going to be good friends of mine.”
The call from the Vikings came as a surprise to Hill and the Jaguars. His agent had heard scuttlebutt of interest from the Jets and Texans of potentially making a move on him, but he had almost no previous contact with the Vikings, so the most recent news came out of the blue.
It also got the Jaguars into scramble mode. They not only promised him a spot on the active roster, but tried to dissuade Hill by bringing up the weather – which can work with kids born and raised in the south – comparing a move to Minnesota like signing up to play football in Siberia.
“I know it’s a business,” Hill said. “At the time Minnesota called, the G.M. called me right then and said we don’t want you to go. We’re going to put you on active. We want you to stay here. You don’t have to go nowhere. It’s cold up there.”
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Another factor that may have weighed into Hill’s decision was that NFL opportunities are fleeting. He had seen that the Jaguars had the chance to elevate him to the active roster – they did for the Baltimore game, only to release him and re-sign him to the practice squad when another player was put in his place.
In Minnesota, he sees a legitimate chance to make the roster moving forward and, with two small daughters, he saw the opportunity to make more money to support his family.
His life has been a whirlwind since the Vikings contacted him Monday afternoon and his kids were front and center the whole time – even at the point when the call from his agent came.
“I was lifting weights (Monday) and holding my little girls,” Hill said. “Monday night I got the call – I got home about 5 and my agent called me. All this stuff had been happening from 5 p.m. Monday to now.”
The last 48 hours have arguably been the most life-changing two days he has had as a football player. He had to instantly make the decision whether to accept the Vikings’ offer to the 53-man roster or play it safe and stay in his hometown with no guarantees of anything moving forward.
It was difficult to leave his wife and kids behind at the airport, but, in the end, he got on the plane to Minnesota because of them and the potential to give them the life that playing in the NFL can afford to young families.
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“I didn’t want to leave my little girls,” Hill said. “I have two little girls. One is in school and the other is a baby – she’s 16 months. My mother is going to watch the kids. My wife is coming Friday. I love my family. I was raised on family first.”
Hill arrived last night and began the crash course in learning the responsibilities that will be expected of him. He was told to be prepared to practice on both the right and left side. He only played left tackle at Southern Miss, but took more reps on the right side with Jacksonville.
Although native Minnesotans and Vikings players who have been around the state for more than a year or two are celebrating green grass on the ground in mid-November, it still has something of an Arctic feel to native Floridian. But, Hill sees this as a professional opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
His crash course in the Vikings offense likely won’t see him on the field immediately, but he is soaking up all he needs to learn and his initial reaction to his coaches is extremely positive as he looks to take the next step in his professional football career.
“The coaches are coming along to help me with whatever I need to do,” Hill said. “Yesterday I had a couple of meetings with the coaches. I’m just trying to contribute to the team and trying to get better.”