Hill filled in for Jessie Bates all preseason, and it’s assumed that he will become Bates’ permanent replacement when the veteran free safety cashes in on free agency this offseason.
Lou Anarumo was comfortable waiting until next year. The Bengals’ defensive coordinator was quite vociferous earlier this season about not wanting to play a rookie defensive back too soon.
Unfortunately, injuries to both Mike Hilton and Jalen Davis forced his hand, and Hill got the start at nickel corner this weekend.
Hill’s biggest splashes came in run defense, which bodes well for his future as a safety. Although Hill is likely to be deemed the “free safety,” Anarumo loves versatility and is likely to see a lot of action close to the line of scrimmage, just like Vonn Bell.
In this clip, Hill (23) is at the top of the screen and comes in with the motion. As the run action comes his way, he doesn’t wait to be blocked. He shoots the gap and makes the tackle for a loss.
On this play, he is lined up in the box where you might see Akeem Davis-Gaither if they were in a 4-3 package. The Buccaneers motion a tight end to his side and run outside zone. That tight end engages with Hill, but the rookie holds his ground and forces the cutback to a streak of Bengals’ defenders including Germaine Pratt, Cam Sample, and B.J. Hill.
This was a fantastic run fit.
Hill is once again lined up in the box, but this time at the top of the screen.
This time the Buccaneers pull Nick Leverett (60) to kick him out, but despite a significant weight disadvantage, Hill strikes the pulling guard, standing him straight up, and holding his ground. Even more impressive is how when the running back cuts inside, Hill disengages from the block and assists Pratt with the tackle. Incredible.
Hill looked fantastic close to the line but is less comfortable in the open field, whether it be in zone coverage or making an open-field tackle.
This play is an example of both. He has the opportunity to prevent the touchdown, but he takes a poor angle and dives at his legs rather than making a good tackle.
In man coverage, Hill battled all day. He had some good reps, but he also had a few missteps and was a little more physical than he is likely to get away with on a regular basis. Just like Cam Taylor-Britt, he will have a very sharp learning curve as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL game.
In this clip, he does a good job of staying with the receiver, despite being basically picked twice by his own teammates. It should be Bell who makes this play, but Hill shows some tenacity as he sticks with the receiver and makes the tackle. It is a win for the offense, but a good individual effort by Hill.
Hill showed some promise but has a long way to go in coverage. Remember that Anarumo talked earlier in the year about building confidence in young defensive backs. He references his own experience coaching a rookie Xavien Howard and said that he wasn’t Xavien Howard at the beginning of the year.
Hill, like Taylor-Britt, has room to grow, but he showed potential in his first NFL start.