Jeremy Hill looked like a star in the making for the Bengals last year on his way to rushing for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns.
Then again, so did Giovani Bernard during his 2013 campaign in which he had 1,209 all-purpose yards and eight total scores. However, injuries and average play led to Bernard falling behind last season as Hill took over the No. 1 running back spot the second half of the season.
We saw a similar development during the Bengals' 24-19 win over the Chargers in Week 2. Hill opened the game as the lead back, just as he did in Week 1 in a 33-13 win over the Raiders. That game saw Hill run for two scores and 63 yards on 19 carries. It was a good game, but one that Hill and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson admitted could have been much better.
It didn't get better for Hill against the Chargers as he fumbled twice and was benched for most of the second half. The first fumble came on a play during which Hill was bent backwards on a tackle. He suffered a minor injury to his left knee as Donal Butler ripped the ball from him. Hill stayed down after the play for about a minute before walking gingerly to the sideline.
He eventually got back in the game and even ran for a key first down. However, he made a horrendous gaffe when he later fumbled a pitch that the Chargers recovered, while Cincinnati was leading the game with a score of 14-13. It was a perfect pitch that Hill got both hands on, but he simply dropped it and couldn't recover the ball.
The good news is the Bengals' defense bailed him out of both fumble situations. It also helped that Bernard finished the game with 123 yards rushing and 16 yards receiving to help power Cincinnati to the win and secure a 2-0 start. This came after Bernard had 88 all-purpose yards (63 rushing, 25 receiving) on just 14 touches in Week 1 against the Radiers.
"Gio obviously did a good job of stepping in there and finishing the game for us," Hill said after the game. "We needed that from him. We were able to overcome my turnovers and win the game. That’s all that matters."
Head coach Marvin Lewis is a stern believer in not allowing backs to turn the ball over and keep getting touches. That's why Hill is likely in Lewis' doghouse after putting the ball on the ground twice in just 11 touches. Having Gio only makes it easier for Lewis to go with another option.
"We had a little combination of both," Lewis said after the game. "Gio was carrying the ball, but we can’t have a back fumbling the football either. Jeremy’s a talented young player, and we’ve got to keep the football. That wasn’t part of his deal last year, and we can’t let it creep in."
It was clear in this game that Hill's gaffes helped Bernard become the top back after he lost that role in a similar manner last year. Point being, Gio is the No. 1 back heading into a Week 3 date with the Ravens and going forward as long as he can keep producing like he has the first two weeks.
"When the opportunity arises, that’s the biggest thing for anybody," Bernard said on Sunday afternoon. "Anybody out there with opportunities, go ahead and just do what you do."
However, just like last year, the No. 1 running back spot could quickly go back to being Hill's, but for now, he's lost that.