With Green-Ellis gone, Hill's time begins

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
5:50
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- After 112 days, finally, the news came.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis was cut.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriJeremy Hill can expect the Bengals to use him in a variety of ways this season.
Most around southwest Ohio had anticipated hearing of the running back's release since May, when the Cincinnati Bengals drafted his replacement, Jeremy Hill. A second-round pick, Hill vowed that weekend to learn from and play along with Green-Ellis, even while it was apparent that the veteran's days were numbered.

Those days officially ran out Friday afternoon.

Green-Ellis' release means the Bengals have turned to the next chapter of their backfield plans, and that they are embracing having Hill as an option out of the backfield. It's safe to say that in Cincinnati, the Jeremy Hill Era has begun.

You actually could rewind your clock back to Thursday night in order to pinpoint the exact moment Hill's tenure with the Bengals began. During a 35-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the running back shouldered the load, receiving 26 touches. He ran 20 times for 90 yards and caught six passes for 63. With the star rookie playing until deep into the third quarter, many criticized coach Marvin Lewis for not taking him out sooner.

There was a method to Lewis' apparent madness.

"Jeremy has to understand what it's like to be an NFL running back," Lewis said. "We aren't five deep. When we get to Sundays and we got down to 46 guys, and if he's going to be the guy, then he's going to have to be able to shoulder the load."

It should be pointed out that he won't be the only guy for the Bengals this season. Second-year back Giovani Bernard also will be contributing out of the backfield. Bernard is expected to see the bulk of the touches out of the backfield, but Hill should have his share, too.

Bernard is more of a shifty, outside runner who can punch the ball inside if he needs to. Hill is more of a power-running ballcarrier who happens to have next-level speed, too.

Green-Ellis no longer had that combination, and it factored into the reasons he had to go.

When you saw Green-Ellis and Hill run in practices during the spring and earlier this summer, it was a night-and-day difference in how fluid Hill looked compared to the veteran. The rookie's cuts were sharper. His feet were quicker. His strides were longer. Matched with Green-Ellis' comparatively plodding pace, Hill looked more like an NFL rusher than Green-Ellis. There was no contest.

After Thursday night's game, Hill was asked about getting such an exhaustive workload on a warm, humid night. He said he felt fine with it because it was good preparation for what's to come.

"Bigger backs are always accustomed to getting the workload," Hill said, adding that he still wants to work on his conditioning a little more.

A physical runner himself, Green-Ellis has gotten his share of carries in recent seasons. In his two years with the Bengals he averaged 249 carries. Prior to that, though, he never had more than 229 in a single season with the New England Patriots, the only other team Green-Ellis has played for.

You won't ever hear Green-Ellis admit it, but perhaps his slower, less effective play last season was partially the result of overuse. He was, after all, the primary back on the roster in 2012 when he had 278 carries. Last season he had Bernard to share the runs with, but he still far outpaced any other Bengals rusher, collecting 220 carries.

While coaches won't say how often they expect to use Hill this season, based on Thursday, it's clear they expect to use him in a variety of ways. The rookie ran up the middle, hit the edge a few times and even caught a number of screen passes.

"He likes to attack every corner of the field," backup quarterback Jason Campbell said.

Now that Green-Ellis is no longer ahead of him, Hill will be able to touch as much of the field as he wants.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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