Bengals’ Dax Hill embracing move to cornerback

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor credited Dax Hill for keeping the team’s plans for him quiet, but the third-year defensive back said he has known he would be switching from safety to cornerback since the start of free agency.

The Bengals selected Hill in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft as Jessie Bates’ eventual replacement and learned multiple roles as a rookie before taking over the free safety position last year. He started every game and played almost all of the defensive snaps in that spot, but didn’t play up to expectations.

When Cincinnati signed former Baltimore Ravens safety Geno Stone in March, it became clear the Bengals were moving on from the idea of Hill as their starting free safety. Taylor said at the start of the offseason workout program two weeks ago there was a plan for him but neither he nor Hill elaborated until after the draft ended Saturday.

“He kind of just told me straight forward he was going to be moving me and really just having a good chance to compete with some guys on the squad so I’m excited for it,” Hill said Monday during the team’s weekly media availability during offseason workouts.

The three-year starter at Michigan saw time at both outside corner and slot corner, as well as at safety, during his college career, and most of his snaps during his final season in 2021 came at slot corner. His versatility was something the Bengals liked, though it was clear they would be using him at safety until now.

Hill said he’s “OK” with the idea of switching to cornerback.

“I mean, I’m going to have to,” Hill said. “I have no choice, but that’s something I’ve done before, so I’m pretty comfortable and confident in myself.”

“It’s just going to make it easier for myself (to stay positive),” Hill added. “I could take it one of two ways, but I’m going to take the best way to look at it and just seize it as an opportunity for me and my family. I feel like I have a high ceiling for myself. Whatever position it is, I’m confident in myself. I really don’t have a bad attitude toward it.”

Taylor said Hill could play any of the cornerback spots, but the Bengals return starting cornerbacks Cam Taylor-Britt and DJ Turner II on the outsides and slot corner Mike Hilton. It’s possible he could begin transitioning into Hilton’s role, if he adapts well. Hilton is in the final year of his contract.

Hill played more than 700 snaps in that role at Michigan, but he said he doesn’t have a preference.

“I love covering,” Hill said. “That’s something I’ve always done pretty well in college, so I’m kind of just glad I’m back in that same kind of role and really just looking forward to competing.”

Taylor-Britt said Hill had already been working with the cornerbacks some at the end of last year instead of doing the safety position drills, and he just needs more reps to get acclimated. Hill stepped in at outside corner in 2022 at Cleveland when Chidobe Awuzie tore his ACL and Eli Apple was inactive. He also started one game at slot corner that year when Mike Hilton was out with a finger injury.

Turner played alongside Hill at Michigan when they were both in cornerback roles and noted Hill is embracing the move.

“That’s nothing new,” Turner said. “Guy’s going to do whatever the team needs him to do. That’s what he’s going to do. You want him to perform at corner, he’s going to perform at corner.”

Hill said his offseason workouts didn’t change much but it helped him that his trainer back home in Oklahoma, Dwight Dobbins, was a former cornerback at the University of Tulsa. Dobbins has been supporting and helping him get ready for the opportunity.

“It’s really just the technique, but for the most part it’s kind of similar (to safety),” Hill said. “I’m covering different types of bodies but at the same time I’m still covering quality people, football players, so it’s different. There’s going to be some learning there, but I feel like that’s something with my skillset I’m able to do.”

Asked if he thinks he didn’t get enough time to showcase what he could do at safety, Hill said “a little bit.” He spent his rookie season in so many different spots, he didn’t get a chance to hone in on the free safety role until last year, and now he’s already switching again.

Hill spent a lot of time this offseason assessing what went wrong for him last year and said he can still apply some of the lessons learned as he competes at cornerback.

“Stepping into a role that whenever I first came in, I wasn’t in that role at all, really just stepping in and trying to make the most of that, that was something I had to get used to,” Hill said. “But I lived and learned and now that I’m here, I can take away some things I did last year and mold myself into the player I’m going to be this year.”

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