Playing nickel DB at age 29, Rams' Troy Hill "trying to age like fine wine" 

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – When approached by the Rams' defensive coaching staff about transitioning from cornerback to nickel defensive back – also known as "star" in defensive coordinator Brandon Staley's scheme – Troy Hill had just one question.

"Well, am I going to play corner too?"

If he sustains his play from Sunday, he might not, but for good reason. While playing nickel defensive back is a new role for Hill, it's one he is excelling in.

"I'm just trying to go out there and be the best version of myself that I can be at that position," Hill said during a video conference with reporters Monday morning.

Hill's initial skepticism about the move is somewhat understandable.

Last season, injuries at the cornerback position elevated him to a starting role, and he turned in a performance worthy of being ranked one of Pro Football Focus' Top 25 cornerbacks at the end of the regular season. Hill flourished playing opposite cornerback Jalen Ramsey, posting career-highs in total tackles (38) and pass breakups (11) while tying his career-high for interceptions in a single season (2).

Outside corner seemed like a natural fit, even in a new defensive scheme. Seeing Hill operate at "star" in training camp, however, gave Staley other ideas.

"Troy has a lot of the qualities that we specifically value at the nickel position," Staley said during a video conference with reporters Wednesday. "I think what we value at nickel is a little bit different than most. We want a guy that can cover man-to-man, and I think his ability outside at corner really expresses itself inside his style of play. It does happen quicker inside, and he has a lot of short-space quickness to compete with these slot wide-outs."

Staley also said that when he first joined the Rams, he noticed Hill was one of the team's best tacklers. Because the nickel defensive back is "in the way a lot in the run game," Staley felt Hill's presence as a tackler would be a natural fit for "star." Anyone who plays "star" must play with poise and not get sped up during a game, according to Staley, so Hill's steady, calm demeanor further justified deploying Hill at that position.

That trust paid off in Week 2, when Hill snagged the game-clinching interception for a 37-19 Los Angeles win at Philadelphia last Sunday. Hill's overall performance – he also had eight total tackles and a pass breakup – earned him one of the game balls from L.A. head coach Sean McVay and the chance to break it down in the locker room for the first time in his career.

"He's a good nickel. He's a really, really good nickel," Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. "He's shifty and he's smart. He knows all his leverages and everything. He does a good job."

That said, this is the first time Hill is playing nickel defensive back, which means he's still learning. Staley thought Hill played more technically sound in Week 2 compared to Week 1, so there is evidence he is making progress.

"I'm still working my way up, and I'm still grinding and getting better every day, trying to age like fine wine," Hill said. "So I'm excited about this process."

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