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Jeremy Hill ready to prove last two seasons weren’t indicative of his ability

Despite two rough seasons in a row, the Bengals’ running back is staying confident and working hard to prove himself in 2017.

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Jeremy Hill’s struggles over the last two years have frustrated Cincinnati Bengals fans hoping for an effective running game. After an impressive 222 carries for 1,124 yards in his rookie season (2014), despite only starting the final eight games, Hill’s production plummeted to 1,633 yards on 445 carries during the past two seasons combined. The drop off has had Bengals fans and coaches alike scratching their heads, wondering what happened to the player who once seemed so promising. If you ask Hill, you’ll get the same bewilderment, as he still believes he can do so much better than he has.

“These last two seasons I’ve had, it’s not me, it’s not who I am as a player,” Hill told Jay Morrison of the Dayton Daily News. “I’ve got to respond. That’s what great players do. I consider myself a great player, so I’ve just go to respond.”

‘Responding’ to a bad performance is exactly what Bengals fans were hoping to see after playing so poorly in 2015. He managed to find the endzone a fair number of times in 2015 (11), but he was extremely ineffective as an every-down running back. Unfortunately, what fans saw was a player who has either lost his confidence or has simply forgotten how to be consistent and successful.

“I’ve been searching for that answer myself,” he said. “For me, it’s just getting that trust with the offensive line and really understanding what’s going on and just breaking more tackles and having more yards after contact. That’s something I can control. That’s something I want to really work on, something I have been working on, something I can’t show right now, but it’ll happen on Sundays.”

It is nice that Hill is still taking the perspective that he is going to return to form. Otherwise, he could end up going down as a great one-hit wonder who was replaced by his team before his rookie contract ran out.

“I’m a competitor, and that’s what I do. If you’re in this business and you don’t feel that way, you probably won’t last long,” Hill said. “You’ve got to compete every day to keep your job. If a guy starts slacking off, they’ll find someone else to replace you.”

Given the Bengals’ enviable draft positioning this year (No. 9 overall pick, 11 total picks), it certainly makes sense for Hill to be worried about the security of his job. It has been speculated the Bengals are interested in bringing in top running back prospects like Leonard Fournette, Joe Mixon, and Alvin Kamara. That doesn’t typically happen when an NFL team is satisfied with their running game. But, Hill doesn’t seem concerned at all. Last week, he said he welcomes the Bengals drafting a top-tier running back and then said, “they’re probably going to be my backup.”

The Bengals’ other primary running back, Giovani Bernard, has performed well in Cincinnati and is currently under contract through 2019. He’s recovering from ACL surgery, but, by all accounts, is doing well and should be back for the start of the 2017 season. If the Bengals were to bring in a top-tier running back prospect, it would only make sense that Hill’s job as the starter would be in question, though, you’d still have to give him the edge to maintain the tole.

Then again, if Hill can return to the player he was in 2014, it will certainly prove he is correct in saying he is a great player who simply hasn’t been playing like himself. He suffered numerous injuries in 2016, almost all of which he opted to play through. In the long run, the Bengals would love to see their 2014 second round pick prove himself as the great player he once showed he could be. A backfield including a healthy Bernard, a promising young draft pick, and a revitalized Hill could be scary for the rest of the NFL.

“I just really focused in on myself and getting my body in the best shape possible,” Hill added about how he’s spent the last few months. “It’s probably the lightest I’ve ever been coming into OTAs. I’m feeling good. I’m excited for what’s coming ahead.”

We can only hope that Hill returns to his 2014 form and puts up a good fight with a drafted running back to hold down the starting role in Cincinnati in 2017.