When Rashod Hill cleaned out his Jaguars locker last November, there wasn’t a thought in his mind he was leaving to replace a $59 million man.
Riley Reiff, the Vikings’ big free-agent addition to replace Matt Kalil, has either watched or not attended five training camp practices since suffering a back injury last week and leaving on the rear of a golf cart.
The next man up has been Hill, whom the Vikings plucked off the Jaguars’ practice squad last season.
Jacksonville wanted to keep Hill, so the Jaguars offered him a spot on their active roster. He instead chose Minnesota because of the opportunity to help a then-beleaguered, injury-riddled line.
Hill didn’t foresee, however, he’d be the starting left tackle during camp.
“Nah, I didn’t think that, man,” said Hill, 25. “Who would say that? They’d be lying.”
Vikings coaches hand-picked him out of an inexperienced crop of tackles that includes Jeremiah Sirles and Willie Beavers to take Reiff’s place with the first team in practice.
Coach Mike Zimmer wants to see a starting lineup of offensive linemen string together 16 games, but the five expected starters have yet to even practice together once.
So they’ve turned to Hill, a Jacksonville, Fla., native and former scholarship basketball player who wants to one day be a police officer. Hill’s journey to the Vikings left tackle spot began when the football coach at Ed White High School recruited him away from the basketball team. The 250-pound senior still earned some scholarship offers in that sport.
“I used to be a center, a forward. I can dribble and every- thing,” Hill said. “I was good at basketball, but this pays the bills.
“This is what I do now.”
Hill received better scholarship offers for football from Rutgers and Southern Miss. He chose the latter and majored in criminal justice, which was on his mind long before protecting quarterbacks.
“I always wanted to be a police officer,” Hill said. “I always liked them growing up. I always thought it was the coolest thing as a kid.”
He’ll just need to convince Mrs. Tara Hill, his wife of 13 months, with their family of four children.
“You know my wife is like, ‘Nah they’re killing police and all this these days,’ ” Hill said. “But I always got that to fall back on at home. And I’d love it. It’s flexible. Spend time with my kids. I’m a real family guy and I want to see my kids grow up.”
Hill is currently asked to protect the blind side of quarterback Sam Bradford from Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen and fellow end Danielle Hunter, last year’s team sack leader with 12.5.
Hill, with long arms and a 6-6, 309-pound build that says NFL tackle, looks the part on the practice field. However, limitations begin with just 49 snaps of NFL experience, which came in the Vikings’ season finale against the Bears.
Should the Vikings need a long-term replacement at tackle, they may consider outside help unless Hill is a very quick study. General Manager Rick Spielman didn’t draft any tackles this spring, instead addressing the interior line in the draft after signing two starting tackles in free agency.
Hill sees eye to eye with his competition at the line, but sometimes once the ball is snapped he shows how far he has to go yet. He’ll quickly adjust his feet and trap Griffen in a spin move. Then on the next play Hunter will blow past him within a couple of seconds.
“It’s tough,” right tackle Mike Remmers said. “I mean any spot is tough, especially for a new guy, a young guy. But he’s doing a great job, getting better each day.”
The Vikings still see something in Hill, and it’s hard to miss. He’s a hulking human being with the measurable traits to possibly one day mold into a reliable NFL starter.
As of Wednesday, Hill’s future is now until Reiff returns from the back injury that’s keeping him out.
“[Hill] has certainly benefited from more reps than we thought he’d get against, really, our front-line guys on defense,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said.
“He’s making steady progress. We really like the path he’s on. I think we have more than a month before we play New Orleans. There’s a lot of water that’s got to run under the bridge.”