While injuries have been the major storyline of the Bengals this preseason, the redemption of the team and some specific players still remains at the forefront of the 2016 season’s goals. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, cornerback Adam Jones and running back Jeremy Hill have been attempting to get back in fans’ good graces after all three contributed to a late-game implosion in the Wild Card loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers this January.
After spending this offseason on a mission to get back to his outstanding 2014 rookie form, Hill has been attempting to translate the work to on-field production in the first two weeks of the preseason. On Thursday night against the Detroit Lions, Hill was decisive and looked to have the confidence everyone saw from him at the end of 2014. However, if you’re asking Hill about his approach this offseason, he would tell you not much has changed.
“It’s not a new mindset. I have the same mindset, but I’m just working,” Hill said after the Bengals’ 30-14 win over the Lions. “I think for me, it’s just to continue to go out there and repetition. Just getting better every time I step out on the field and just helping my teammates. Just being a leader on this team. So, out there just working, not having any distractions, just working. That’s how it is.”
Hill only played the opening series in the game, but finished with three carries for 16 yards and a touchdown. After his first two touches (one rush, one catch) netted zero total yards, his next two carries gave the offense 16 yards and the touchdown. Hill began to pick up steam with this 8-yard rush. Note the decisiveness compared to what we saw from him throughout much of 2015.
And even though his lone reception wasn’t anything to write home about, it does showcase his unheralded versatility. It was only a 1-yard catch, but he took a pop, got up and followed this play with the above-noted 8-yard run.
In the early part of training camp, Hill told Sirius/XM NFL Radio that his goal for this upcoming season was to take care of the ball. While he didn’t necessarily reiterate the sentiment after Week 2 of the preseason, he did note his willingness to work hard to get back to his Rookie of the Year-like campaign two seasons ago.
“I really don’t try to put numbers or caps or try to put a ceiling to where I could go,” Hill said. “I just want to go out there and just play to the best of my ability and just work, and build chemistry with our offensive line and kind of see how those guys are seeing things. Just kind of make everything click. I think for me that’s the only goal I really have, just trying to get chemistry and work hard.”
Hill’s rushing touchdown to cap off the Bengals’ opening drive definitely showed the comfort level everyone hopes to see as the regular season kicks off. On a first-and-goal from the Lions’ 9-yard line, Hill briefly waited for initial blocks to develop and then shot through the Detroit defense like a cannon.
Though it’s the preseason and Hill still has a way to go, in terms of proving his getting past the fumbling issues, Thursday night provided a lot of optimism for 2016. The third preseason game usually gives the starters the most snaps in the summer contests, so we’ll see if Hill can build off of this performance in potentially extended playing time next week.