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Rookie RB’s role not defined but should be substantial

Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill was one of the few second-teamers who saw more work than the player he backs up during Sunday night’s preseason game in Arizona, and the rookie made both an immediate and a prolonged impact.

Hill entered early in the second quarter, replacing Giovani Bernard after four drives yielded no points and two first downs for the first-team offense.

The Bengals put together long drives that resulted in field goals on Hill’s first two series, with the rookie picking up a key third and 1 on a 5-yard run on the first possession before churning out 5- and 10-yard chunks on back-to-back plays on the second drive, which also resulted in a field goal.

“It was good to see him be physical with his running,” running backs coach Kyle Caskey said. “We’ve just got to get him to be consistent with everything he’s doing. His intensity is there. He’s going to be really good.”

Not only were Hill’s 30 snaps nearly double the 16 he had the week before, but quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Jason Campbell sent the ball in his direction on more than half of those plays with 12 handoffs and five targets.

Hill finished with 48 yards on 12 carries and two catches for 10 yards.

“I thought last week I was in great shape, but I wasn’t where I expected I was,” Hill said. “This game I think I was in the best shape. I didn’t really get tired. I kept wanting to finish those drives and to continue to put pressure on the defense. I just need to continue to stay fresh and stay healthy and make sure however many carries I get that I’m ready for it.”

Hill didn’t actually finish his first two drives, as the Bengals brought Bernard back in when they approached the red zone.

It’s unclear whether the team will elect to rotate the backs during the regular season, but worth noting were the formations used against the Cardinals depending on which back was in the game.

Six of Bernard’s 10 carries came from shotgun formation, compared to none for Hill, who ran exclusively out of the I-formation.

“I’m comfortable with both,” Hill said. “Through OTAs and through training camp, I think I got a comfort level with the offense. We did a little bit (of shotgun in college), but not as much as we do here obviously.”

Something else he didn’t do much of in college but is already getting a heavy dose of in the pros is catching passes. Hill has been targeted eight times in the last two games, compared with four for Bernard the entire preseason.

Two of the three incompletions thrown Hill’s way in Arizona never had a chance — one was directed at his feet to avoid the rush, the other batted down at the line — but the third one is still haunting him.

Wide open while coming across the middle, Hill had the ball bounce off his hands on a play where he would have had time to get his head turned around move into the open field for a big gain.

“As a competitor you never want to drop a ball,” he said. “But the more and more you do this and play this sport, you’ve got to have a short memory. That’s something I’ve been working on. I’m just so hard on myself all the time and I expect greatness from myself every time I step out there. So any time let the team down or let myself down, it’s kind of hard.”

While Caskey was disappointed by the play as well, he said he’s not concerned about Hill’s ability to be as much of a factor in the passing game as Bernard.

“We had a good talk about that,” he said. “He’s going to make plays. We talked to him about there are certain plays that are maybe going to be harder to make, but that’s why he’s here. He can catch the ball. That is not an issue with him.”

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