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Hill gains respect with each hard yard

Posted Aug 28, 2014

After his 17th bone-rattling carry of Thursday night, Bengals rookie running back Jeremy Hill came off the field to be greeted by 12-year veteran cornerback Terence Newman. He tapped Hill on the helmet because Hill didn’t tap out. Then he told him a few things.

Rookie running back Jeremy Hill picking up some of his 160 all-purpose yards against the Colts.

After his 17th bone-rattling carry of Thursday night, Bengals rookie running back Jeremy Hill came off the field to be greeted by 12-year veteran cornerback Terence Newman. He tapped Hill on the helmet because Hill didn’t tap out. Then he told him a few things.

“He said I’m going to be a force in the league if I keep doing what I’m doing,” said the 6-1, 233-pound Hill after he force-fed the Colts 160 of the Bengals’ 319 yards. “He said guys aren’t going to want to tackle me with a full head of steam. He said, ‘Just keep working man. You’ll be pretty good in this league.’”

Hill was so good Thursday night the Bengals must have thunder and lightning dancing through their heads with Opening Day in Baltimore now nine days away. While running back Giovani Bernard cooled his scatback jets along with the other 21 starters, Hill banged and battered his way to 90 yards on 20 carries and then added 70 more on six catches.

This is what the Bengals had in mind when they took Hill in the second round out of LSU back in May.  A punch it out, 233-pound 4.0 yards per guy. Hill is more than that, but in his first 41 carries as a Bengal, the number is 4.6.

Hill’s 26 touches typified what new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson wants. Power as he lined up much of the time behind rookie fullback Ryan Hewitt. Speed as he had the vision in the Bengals’ down-hill zones to eke out extra yards at the end of runs. Creativity as he weaved his way to 41 yards off a screen pass and deked a safety on the way.

“The proudest moment was seeing him catch a screen. That was taking some yardage,” said quarterback Jason Campbell. “Coming into tonight we understood he was getting the ball a lot.  We talked about him getting into a rhythm before the season starts. Just give him a feel for what it’s like to carry the ball in the National Football League. Just give him a taste of it.”

Hill savored it Thursday night. He felt like taking a pounding was needed. That’s why he didn’t blink when Lewis put him back in the game early in the second half after he had left the first half with a funny bone shot to his elbow. Or when he took two more carries after James Wilder Jr. went out briefly late in the game. After all, Bernard was resting and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (hip), Cedric Peerman (hip) and Rex Burkhead (knee) were all out.

“We only had two backs. He didn’t have too many options. If we had a full room, I wouldn’t have got that much work,” Hill said. “I’m kind of happy about it. I thought I earned some trust from my teammates and coaches. From a trust side and a respect side. Just being able to get that workload and not tap out and just still want to finish drives and finish runs.”

There’s no question there. His longest run of the night came on his last carry, a 17-yard grinder he broke outside. But that’s not his favorite. Just look at another third-and-one, his specialty. It came in a scoreless game with five minutes left in the first half from the Colts 13 and Hill lowered his head to follow rookie fullback Nikita Whitlock blocking linebacker Henoc Muamba to the left edge for five yards.

“The tight end (Alex Smith) set the edge. Whitlock came around and got the linebacker,” Hill said. “To me, that was the turning point in the game because we scored on that series and started to take off.”

Hill says this game wasn’t all that much different than the ones in high school in Baton Rouge or in college at LSU. Defenders don’t exactly embrace the idea of tackling him.

“Being 6-1, 230 pounds, once I get a full head of steam, guys don’t want to see that,” Hill said. “Being a big guy, they don’t like me coming at them full force. They’re not trying to hit me flush.

“You’ll see it on film,” he said. “Guys weren’t really trying to hit me. They just kind of waited until I got past them. They were shoe lacing me down. I have to keep getting better at going through some of their leg tackles. They were trying to get me through the legs.”

If his foes aren’t looking to make contact, Hill is. He picked up a couple of blitzes, including one that allowed Campbell to get off a third-down completion to Alex Smith.

    “Coach Hue did a great job this week of getting us those looks. All those looks that they showed, I was ready for them,” Hill said. “I was looking at film and studying before the game. I stuck my head in there, picked it up and gave my quarterback time, which is something we harp on every week. That was something I was happy about, and that’s the biggest thing I’m taking away from this game.”

 Campbell has 79 starts in this league and Hill is right. The vets were talking about him.

“He runs hard,” Campbell said. “He came from one of the toughest conferences in the country at LSU and one thing they do really well is run the ball. It’s really going to help the other backs in our backfield.”

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