Jeremy Hill was surprised when he took the field for the first time with an NFL logo on his chest.
The mental aspect of the game was glaring. During those first few weeks, he never knew enough. The defenses were constantly doing things he hadn’t prepared for and Hill had to adjust on the fly.
But as far as the physical aspect goes, he was surprised to find out some of the players he was going up against on Sundays did not compare with some of the guys he had faced during his two years at LSU.
“I think honestly guys are probably a little slower for the most part,” Hill said. “But they react a lot quicker and they know where they’re going, so they get there faster.”
Hill’s transition from college star to NFL running back hasn’t exactly been ripped from the pages of a storybook, but he’s flashed in moments and has proven capable of playing at this level after being selected in the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals, who will play the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday, of May’s draft.
Hill spent the early part of the season behind Giovani Bernard on the depth chart and now has 86 carries for 404 yards with five touchdowns. But with Bernard nursing a shoulder injury the past two weeks, Hill has been gotten the opportunity to carry the load as the lead back.
In a Week 9 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hill got 24 carries and logged 154 yards with two touchdowns. In last week’s 24-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns, he ran 12 times for 55 yards. Asked Wednesday if Bernard would again miss this week’s contest, meaning Hill would serve as the primary running back, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis replied by saying, “We’ll see.”
As far as his recent success is concerned, Hill said nothing about the physical aspect of the game has surprised him. It’s the mental part that’s been most challenging.
“I think in college, you get a lot of vanilla looks and a lot of simple coverages — simple Cover 3, simple quarters, simple man-to-man — you can just study for that and you’ll be fine,” Hill said. “But the NFL is a lot of different coverages, and a lot of different things you have to prepare for — different blitzes.”
Hill did not, however, face many issues in learning his playbook. He said many of the principles are the same as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron used at LSU, and some of the plays are even called with the same verbiage.
Lewis has a similar assessment of Hill. He said the rookie is still learning how to be a professional player and said his education continues on a weekly basis. But Lewis said one of the things that stands out the most to him is that Hill is a “football player.”
“He’s so well trained coming out of LSU, well coached,” Lewis said. “He’s a football player, he’s not just a running back, he’s a really good football player.”
One issue Hill had to deal with early on was his weight. Lewis said when the rookie showed up at first he had to take measures to slim down. Hill corrected the issue and has impressed the coaching staff with his understanding of what is required to handle the rigors of an NFL season.
One thing that did not initially impress Lewis, however, is the letter Hill sent to teams before the draft. Hill entered the draft circuit with a number of red flags and most scouting reports on the running back noted he had been arrested multiple times.
In an effort to share his side of the story, Hill sent a letter to all 32 teams detailing his arrest history and included handful of character references.
Lewis said the letter is not what sold him on Hill.
“Those letters those agents write really don’t impress us that much,” Lewis said. “Really, I think the research background ... is what’s important. That way to have some people on campus there at LSU that could more vouch for his character truly ... is more important to do that kind of research than a letter written prompted by an agent.”
Though he’s now busy being a pro football player and always preparing for his next game, Hill found time last week to get back to Baton Rouge to watch LSU play Alabama last week. He did not, however, stick around to watch his former team fall in overtime.
“I got out of there at halftime to try and beat the traffic,” Hill said. “I know people who were stuck in traffic until 2 a.m. I took the smart approach and got out of there and watched the end of the game on TV.”
In some ways, it sounds like Hill is already a veteran.