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Growing up in front of our eyes: Jeremy Hill the Leader

Jeremy Hill exceeded all of our expectations last year. Is it even possible that he could do it again? I think he has prepared his body and mind to do just that.

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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

When the Bengals drafted Jeremy Hill, it’s fair to say not all of the Bengals’ faithful embraced him with open arms. It was nothing that Hill had done, or hadn't done, it was who was still available from the Scarlet and Grey. It’s now safe to say that’s a thing of the past. After a good preseason in 2014, then showing flashes of what he could become with limited snap during the first half of the season, Hill burst onto the scene and into our open arms in the second half of the year. His place in Bengals fans’ hearts was cemented with the amazing run on Monday night in the rain, Christmas for Bengals fans had arrived dawning the orange and black stripes.

Hill is active on social media, he has his own catch phase, #stayturnt, and he is already trolling Browns fans with the best of them.

It all started right after the Bengals playoff loss last year. You could see it in his eyes in the post-game interviews, he was hurting. He didn’t like that feeling and he never wanted to feel it again. The light came on in his head, right there, right in that moment, right there in Indianapolis. A ball of fire was growing in his belly and this year we are going to see it.

At the time, Hill said:

"It’s very disappointing especially coming in. We work so hard day-in and day-out. Coming in the building every morning just grinding, doing everything you can to put yourself in a position to win the big one, and then you fall short. It’s definitely disappointing. It’s definitely heartbreaking. It’s motivation. That’s all you can do at this point. The season is over with, so at this point you just got to use it for motivation for the offseason and come back stronger next season."

Looking at his post-game comments, he quickly understood that getting to the playoffs isn’t to be taken for granted and you have to step up. Instead of sulking, making excuses, or blaming his teammates, instead, he said it would motivate him, and motivate him it did.

All offseason you could see he was working hard and staying in shape, as were many of his teammates. His true leadership started to show in his first interview this spring before rookie minicamp. He feels the burden that this city, its fans, and even the players carry from the playoff drought. Now, he’s hell bent on changing it. "It’s now or never," Hill said early at rookie mini camp this year. He also mentioned they need to get over the hump for Marvin and the fans.

For me, it's just a burden that we really need to get lifted from this city, from this team, from this ownership, from this coaching staff and for Coach [Marvin] Lewis," Hill said. "It's something that everyone in this locker room really wants to do -- it's just about us going out there and doing it. We can talk about it every day. We can say this and say that, but at the end of the day, we've just got to go out there and get it done.

The first step to fixing a problem is getting past denial and admitting that it is there.

Hill speaking up will allow him to take some of the burden off of Andy Dalton, assuming they make the playoffs this year, when the time comes. Hill is preparing to be the guy who will fall on the sword and face the tough questions. He has been around long enough to see that Dalton and A.J. Green really aren’t comfortable being outspoken. He is full of the swagger needed to be quip with the media and deflect the questions from those guys to him; he’s going to be Dalton’s secret service.

Hill loves social media and interacting with the fans. He really is quite a funny guy, but he also understands the level of focus that he needs to have during camp. He is leading by example and cutting back on social media, so that he can focus on being ready for the season. Hill has been a different player this year, I’d go as far as to say he is more vocal and looked to by his teammates than Gio Bernard is.

His teammates saw firsthand how special he can be and they are ready to lean on him. He is not scared of the hype he is getting and the attention it brings. Hill and offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson are embracing it; Hill wants the spotlight and he will shine in it. When Dalton is focused and locked in we all know what kind of scorching tears he can go on. With opposing teams, the media, and his own teammates focusing on Hill, Dalton can just go out and play.

Last week Hill showed how much he has matured in just a short time. His friend and former LSU teammate James Wright just was put on IR after showing promise last year. For good reason this had him pretty bummed out. He’d been rehabbing all off season and then he had a setback and will have to rehab another 6-8 months; it was devastating news to him I’m sure. So what did Hill do to cheer him up? He waited for Odell Beckham Jr. to come to town and the first thing they did was go cheer Wright up. If you don’t think this turned a few heads in that locker room you are crazy.

Hill looks more focused than ever and it's contagious. In an interview before the practice with the Giants he made some bold statements further showing his growth. When asked if he would be going "full bore" at practice he said "I only know how to practice one way and that's full speed, giving great effort and finishing. If I can't do that today then I probably won't practice."

He's leading by example and telling his teammates that there is not such thing as half-assing a practice and he won't stand for it. Show up ready to go and ready to put in work, or go find another team. He is definitely more mature and knows the Bengals, the division, and the expectations that are on this team. He said he put himself in the best shape possible to handle whatever workload he gets. One thing that people might not notice from the video is where his locker is this year. Right next to Bernard and Green's, the guy that will be pushing everyone to get better and the guy who knows how to help others navigate lofty personal expectations from teammates and fans.

Hill came to camp ready to exercise the demons that we have all carried in the pit of our stomachs for the last 25 seasons. To be exact it has been 9,353 days or 24 years, 7 months and 10 days, whichever you prefer, since the Bengals last won a playoff game. It will be almost 9,500 days before we will truly find out if Jeremy Hill is the piece that can get us over the hump, but I’m a believer and you should be too. For now, all we can do is wear our stripes with pride and hold on for the wild ride.

Bengals fans I'm telling you and begging you to soak in this moment. Hill could be the man that changes this franchise for good. He could rewrite all the history books, break all of Corey Dillon's records, change the national perception of this team, and most of all finally bring that Lombardi trophy to Cincinnati. One thing I do know is Jeremy Hill has arrived and he is here to stay, so cherish it and remember it all because this could be a player who leaps himself into Bengals folklore!

The Cubs can blame a billy goat, for years the Sox blamed the Bambino and Buckner, Bengals fans blame Bo Jackson, but there is no such thing as curses. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said "Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect." We control our own destiny and this year the captain of our ship is wearing number 32.