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Trial by fire: Bengals rookie defenders pushed into action

You’ve asked for them, now they’re here.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2022 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals spent their first two selections on defensive backs, drafting Daxton Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt, respectively. Hill was dubbed the replacement for Jessie Bates, who at the time, hadn’t signed his franchise tender. Taylor-Britt was seen as a player who would possibly challenge Eli Apple for a starting job, but not a day one contributor.

Fast-forward to Halloween night in a drubbing by the Cleveland Browns. With Apple out with a hamstring injury, Taylor-Britt was thrust into the starting role and well, he had plenty of moments when he looked like a rookie. Getting beat early by Amari Cooper got things off to a rough start, and we saw a few more rookie moments as the game progressed. We knew going in to the season that Taylor-Britt would get some looks, but I wouldn’t say anyone expected it to be a necessity.

From there, things went from bad to worse for the Bengals defensive backfield. Star corner Chidobe Awuzie would leave the game with what was later confirmed as a season-ending knee injury, leaving Tre Flowers to hold down the other outside corner spot. That is, until he went down with an injury of his own.

Insert Hill. While playing some cornerback at the University of Michigan, Hill was drafted to Cincinnati to play safety. That is where he took reps in training camp, played in the preseason and prepared to play in the regular season. Through the first seven games, Hill saw very limited snaps, and suddenly, he was forced into meaningful action, playing out of position.

As the young guys were learning on the fly, they turned to the veteran of the group, Mike Hilton for guidance.

“We had two rookies on the outside playing, really getting their first time experience,” Hilton said after the game. “They were looking for us to lead them and guide them. We’re going to expect a lot from these two for the rest of the year. They have to come ready.”

With the trade deadline now passed, it is clear the Bengals are sticking with the players in their locker room and looking to cash in on the early investments made in April. Save for a free agent or practice squad elevation, nobody is walking through the door to hold down any starting roles. Two premium draft picks will be playing significant roles throughout the second half of the season, and they may play multiple positions.

Things may look bleak for the Bengals now, but a soft schedule before the bye week leaves them in position to remain in contention for a playoff spot. Youth has provided a jolt for this team in the past, albeit on the offensive side of the ball. Now, the time has come where the heavy defensive focus in the draft has to pay off, quickly.