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Newly acquired Hill hopes to stay healthy
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ATLANTA — Dominique Foxworth is back home in Baltimore with a big contract and the former Atlanta defensive back is grateful the Falcons showed faith in him last year.

In February, Foxworth signed a four-year, $27.2 million contract with the Ravens after a starring in the Falcons’ secondary.

Now cornerback Tye Hill hopes Atlanta will provide something similar for his NFL career, but he might face longer odds than Foxworth did.

When the Falcons traded for Foxworth last year, he had almost no history of injuries. That’s not the case with Hill, who Atlanta acquired from St. Louis this week for an undisclosed 2010 draft pick.

Hill, the former Clemson standout who the Rams drafted with the 15th overall pick in 2006, missed the final eight games of the 2007 with a back injury. A knee injury forced him to miss the final 12 games last season.

“It’s been rough,” Hill said Wednesday. “Coming from when I was (at Clemson) and never, ever being hurt to being, like, injury prone, I could never put my hand on it. I couldn’t understand what was going on, but I feel great, man. I feel great.”

Falcons coach Mike Smith left no doubt that Hill will not play tonight when Atlanta (2-1 preseason) hosts the Ravens (3-0) in the final exhibition for both teams.

Smith and his staff used the same approach last year with Foxworth, who joined the Falcons after Denver traded him for a seventh-round pick.

“Tye will get a big, quick introduction into what we’re trying to do defensively,” Smith said. “He’s way, way behind for a guy walking. I’ve told him he needs to be patient, and we’re going to be very patient with him and hopefully get him up to speed as quickly as possible.”

Considering how Atlanta eased in Foxworth, Hill might not play until Week 2 when Carolina visits the Georgia Dome. Foxworth debuted in Atlanta’s second game last year, and he never relinquished the starting job at left cornerback after claiming it in Week 8.

For Foxworth, a former University of Maryland standout, getting paired with defensive stars like linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed satisfied a career-long dream.

“I’ve never been anywhere where fans actually cheer for the defense,” Foxworth said last month. “And on occasion they’ll give a cheer for Ray and Ed. I’m trying to get to the level where, when I make a play, they don’t boo, which is what they do now, because they always want the offense to catch the ball.”

The Falcons’ need to bring in cornerbacks like Foxworth and Hill stems from concerns for a second straight year that Brent Grimes lacks the physical style of play they want at the position. Atlanta’s trade in March 2008 of disgruntled DeAngelo Hall created the big hole on the left side of the secondary.

Grimes, a former undrafted college free agent, is still listed as the left-side starter opposite Chris Houston, but a bigger disappointment has been the play of Chevis Jackson, a third-round draft pick last year.

Smith indicated that Jackson will take many snaps on the left and right sides Thursday because the coaches are still waiting for him to flip a proverbial switch.

Atlanta likes what rookie Chris Owens has shown through the first three preseason games, but the staff wants to give him more time to recognize formations and understand responsibilities before trusting him with a starting job.

That means Hill will likely be the leading candidate to take the left-side job later this month, but he first must prove he’s healthy.
His 2008 season ended with a knee injury after just four games. Back and wrist ailments sidelined Hill for eight games in ‘07.

“I’m going to bring speed to the secondary and I’m going to bring physical play out on the corner,” Hill said. “Trying to learn this defense, and hopefully I can help this team win some games. They’re doing a good job of winning already, but I’m just trying to add another edge to it. I think the sky’s the limit for this team.”

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