Minutes before the Bengals raised some eyebrows by taking running back Joe Mixon in the second round of the draft, Jeremy Hill tweeted a link to a television interview about the possibility of getting company in the backfield this year.
“Bring ’em all on,” Hill says in the interview . “They want to draft a back high, go ahead and do it. They’re probably going to be my backup.”
The Bengals did it, taking Mixon with the 48th overall pick. And now Hill is placed in the position of welcoming the newcomer, backing up his own words and keeping his job.
“Last year wasn’t what we wanted, so starting upstairs we made a statement, bringing guys in to compete every day,” Hill said Monday after one of the team’s offseason workouts. “We need to get back to that playoff standard because that’s the talent we have in our locker room.”
The offense slipped significantly last season, unable to do anything consistently. The offensive line’s struggles contributed to the overall problems, and Cincinnati’s top lineman — left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler — left as free agents after the season.
The Bengals took Hill in the second round in 2014 — the 55th overall pick — hoping they’d found a power runner. He failed to reach 1,000 yards in each of his last two seasons, averaging 3.6 and 3.8 yards per carry. Backup Giovani Bernard tore an ACL midway through last season, and receiver A.J. Green suffered a significant hamstring injury.
The Bengals (6-9-1) drafted speedy receiver John Ross in the first round and Mixon in the second, even though the running back had been suspended one season at Oklahoma for punching a woman in the face. The offense will have a very different look this time around.
“I’m so excited about the pieces they’ve brought in, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Hill said. “I think they’re going to be very beneficial to us.”
They might even cost some Bengals their jobs.
Mixon is expected to push Hill and Bernard for playing time right from the outset. The No. 3 back last season was Rex Burkhead, who left for New England as a free agent. Burkhead carried only six times in the first 10 games, before Bernard’s injury created a role for him.
Mixon is expected to have a much more expansive role from the start, assuming he picks up the offense quickly. Coach Marvin Lewis said a lot of the draft picks will be competing for roles right away.
“It is a lot of competition, and hopefully it opens some eyes,” Lewis said. “It’s good, because no place should be guaranteed.”
After the Bengals drafted Mixon, Hill reached out by phone to welcome him. Besides both being drafted in the second round, both came with questions about their character before the draft. Hill had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery for punching a man outside a bar. He wrote every NFL team a note about himself leading up to the 2014 draft, and the Bengals decided to take a chance on him.
Hill can relate to the backlash that Mixon faces as he starts his career. A local television station posted an editorial on Saturday saying it was “disgraceful” that the Bengals drafted Mixon.
“I’ve had my share of dealing with that my whole career,” Hill said. “It’s really easy to block out. It’s all about distractions and all that stuff. People want to create rivalries and all these things, but at the end of the day when you’re out there playing, you don’t hear any of that stuff.”