Hill Working to Stay in Running in New England
FOXBORO -- The New England Patriots’ depth chart at running back is a puzzle of many pieces.
The Patriots truly have a backfield in motion, one with many electrifying parts, and Jeremy Hill is revved up about his opportunity to carve out a niche for himself in one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.
Holdovers Rex Burkhead, James White and James Develin, along with rookie Sony Michel, a first-round pick out of Georgia who has been sidelined much of training camp with a knee injury, are virtual roster locks.
That likely leaves Hill, despite his impressive pedigree when it comes to running to glory, jockeying for position for the remaining running back slots with Mike Gillislee, Ralph Webb and Brandon Bolden.
Hill has two more dress rehearsals to continue making a favorable impression, including New England’s third pre-season game at the Carolina Panthers on Friday, before the Patriots play for real at home against the Houston Texans on Sept. 9.
“Coach (Bill Belichick) talks all the time about real football,” said Hill. “That’s kind of what we prepare for around here. Real football. Real situations. Things that are going to happen in football games. Not stuff you are never going to see. I think coach does a great job focusing on the right things we are supposed to be focused on. He does a great job getting us ready to play at a high level.”
Hill, 25, has proven he can play at high level. In college, Hill rushed for 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns in his final season at LSU. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Hill in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. As a rookie, he displayed power and speed while rushing for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns. Hill then led the NFL with 11 rushing TDs in 2015.
He ran for 839 yards and nine TDs in 2016. Hill only appeared in seven games in 2017, gaining 116 yards on 37 carries before having season-ending ankle surgery. He has 67 career receptions for 484 yards and one TD.
Hill, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 230 pounds, hopes his versatility will keep him running with the pack in the Patriots’ backfield, perhaps filling the primary role of a between the tackles, short-yardage/goal line specialist.
“I think every back in this league has to pride themselves on doing multiple things out of the backfield,” said Hill. “That keeps you on the field. So you can be on the field for third downs and they don’t have to worry about you in blitz pickup or catching the ball. I think every back wants to do that. Teams are coaching all backs to be more versatile.”
Hill signed a one-year $1.5 million free agent deal with the Patriots, with a $150,000 signing bonus. He will get an additional $18,750 for every game he’s active on the 46-man roster. Hill and Burkhead were teammates in Cincinnati.
“The pre-season is the best test to see where your weaknesses are and also where your strengths are,” said Hill. “And you kind of just go from there. Everyone has things that they need to work on. When you get out there, you see where you are as far as conditioning, (pass) routes, whatever it may be. And work and make improvements.”
Hill is willing to help the Patriots win any way he can.
“The more you can do the better,” said Hill. “If you can make an impact (on special teams) you are definitely helping your team. That’s something I pride myself on. It’s something I can help this team, for sure.”
Hill is impressed with the Patriots’ deep stable of backs. He feels the group brings out the best in each other. Hill is the Patriots’ leading rusher in the pre-season with 82 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries. He also has two receptions for 14 yards.
“We have a little injury bug here and there but the guys come in every day and compete at a high level and push each other to get the job done,” said Hill. “We have to continue to work on that and improve on the things we’ve been doing, and we’ll be just fine.”
Hill has always admired the Patriots from afar. He’s even more impressed now that he sees how the Patriots go about the business of winning first-hand.
“I have a greater appreciation for it,” said Hill. “My thoughts beforehand are fairly similar to what they are now. Probably, just a little more solidified. It’s a discipline football team that doesn’t make mistakes. That’s going to go out and play 60 minutes and is a tough team to beat. That, obviously, gets preached around here a lot.”
Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi