Bengals’ first-round pick likely to get first start vs. Buccaneers, Brady

Credit: Joshua A. Bickel

Credit: Joshua A. Bickel

CINCINNATI — Cam Taylor-Britt might not be the only rookie in the Cincinnati Bengals’ secondary getting tested by the so-called greatest quarterback of all time.

Bengals nickel cornerback Mike Hilton has been ruled out because of a knee injury he suffered and played through last week against the Browns, and backup Jalen Davis is questionable to play Sunday at Tampa Bay because of a thumb injury that kept him out of practices this week.

Safety Dax Hill, the team’s first-round draft pick this year, has been taking the reps in the slot and preparing to resume a role he played at times during his college career at Michigan. It’s no easy task, even a 45-year-old Tom Brady not playing at his best.

The Bengals (9-4) also will be without defensive end Trey Hendrickson (wrist) when they play the Bucs (6-7) on Sunday. Joseph Ossai is expected to start in his place, but wide receivers Tee Higgins (hamstring) and Tyler Boyd (dislocated finger) appear good to go, according to coach Zac Taylor.

“I’m just excited to get an opportunity,” Hill said. “Old stomping grounds, so it’s really just fine-tuning what I used to do. It’s a big part of the defense, really, just lining people up, communicating and just playing fast. That particular spot, there’s just a lot going on, so you just got to make sure you understand what’s going on.”

This season hasn’t exactly gone as Hill expected. He was taking first-team reps at free safety all offseason and most of training camp while Jessie Bates was not participating, but since Bates arrived ahead of the opener, Hill has mostly fallen into the background.

In 11 of his 12 appearances he only saw one to six snaps on defense. He was thrust into a bigger role for one game in Week 8 at Cleveland when Eli Apple was out and Chidobe Awuzie went down, forcing him to slide into the outside cornerback spot without any reps there. That was the game when Taylor-Britt made his starting debut in place of Apple, and he’s remained a starter since because of Awuzie’s season-ending ACL tear.

Hill went right back to minimal action on defense after that game in Cleveland but is prepared to do whatever asked Sunday. His versatility was a big reason the Bengals were drawn to him in the first place.

“I’m used to it at this point,” Hill said. “I just really got to gotta learn the entire defense. But I feel like it’s helping me out in terms of now being a nickel, I kind of understand what the corner’s doing, what the safety is doing, where the help is at, so I feel like it’s been a lot, but at the same time it’s helped.”

Hill said the changes have provided good learning experiences for him, including teaching him to be prepared for anything. Going back to the slot position is in some ways just like riding a bike, he said, but the level of competition is so much higher than college, he will have to be even more detailed in everything he does.

While Hill seems to be learning different things each week, Taylor-Britt has been able to settle into his now-established role on the outside. He struggled early but has been showing progress the past few games. He only allowed one reception against Kansas City, though Patrick Mahomes surprisingly only targeted him twice, and his coverage grade, according to Pro Football Focus, has been much better the last four games than his first three.

Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson targeted Taylor-Britt 10 times last week, and he gave up six receptions but came up with pass breakups in important moments.

“I feel like everything is just coming all together,” Taylor-Britt said. “I started off slowly, you know, just getting the feet wet. Now I feel like everything’s kind of slowing up for me as I’ve seen some things as I’ve been playing.”

“I was just patiently waiting on my time,” he added. “When that time came I just wanted to make sure that I was on my P’s and Q’s and knew the playbook, and of course, I’m going to have mistakes early on but I just don’t want to make those same mistakes.”

Taylor-Britt won’t take it personally if Brady targets him more because he’s a rookie. It’s just his job – and the same will be true for Hill if he starts – to make sure Brady doesn’t find weaknesses to exploit.

“I’m a rookie,” Taylor-Britt said. “I think everybody looks at that like, ‘Rookie on the outside. We got to try to get him,’ but I’m ready for it. You really can’t hide anything against (Brady). You have to really go out there and just play your best ball. He’s seen everything. He’s been playing 23 years. He’s been playing as long as I’ve been living so we just got to go out there and play our ball.”


Bengals at Buccaneers, 4:25 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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