Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead’s Big Day


Oct 26, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) hands the ball off to running back Jeremy Hill (32) during the first half against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

While many NFL fans may be tempted to overlook a game featuring the Jacksonville Jaguars, Bengals fans will be interested in tomorrow’s matchup.  With Giovani Bernard having been ruled out on Friday, rookie running back Jeremy Hill will get his first opportunity to prove he can be a NFL “bell cow” back while Rex Burkhead may see his first NFL action as a running back.

The Bengals took Jeremy Hill with the 55th overall pick in this year’s draft.  Being drafted so early typically comes with high expectations for a rookie, but any Hill expectation comes with the caveat that is Giovani Bernard.  But with Bernard out today due to clavicle and hip injuries, fans are hoping to see Hill take full advantage of this unexpected opportunity and prove he’s worthy of an increased snaps during the second half of this season.

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Through seven games this year, Jeremy Hill’s workload has been sparse at best.  He’s produced 195 yards and three touchdowns on 50 carries while catching 13 passes for 131 yards.  It’s quite light for a second round pick leaving this writer to wonder if offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is easing the rookie into the season in hopes of keeping him fresh for the stretch run; it’s no secret that many rookies struggle with the extended NFL schedule.  But we’re now on the doorstep to the second half of the season and a game against the lowly Jaguars may give Hill a chance to feel a “full day’s work.”

The Jaguars’ rush defense is better than many people realize allowing only 4.0 yards/carry this year.  Hopefully the offensive line, which has struggled blocking would-be tacklers at the second level (according to Football Outsiders), will step up today and allow Hill to build a head of steam.  We’ve seen the kind of damage Hill can do when he is allowed to use his 6’1″, 238 pound frame to “lower the boom.”

But Jeremy Hill won’t be the only Bengals running back who will be enjoying his first meaningful action.

Sunday will likely be fans’ first look at 2013 sixth-round pick Rex Burkhead.  A talented runner out of Nebraska, Rex Burkhead was considered to be a steal being selected so late.  Thus far, he’s struggled to see the field due to the talent the Bengals have possessed in the backfield during his first two years.  But with Bernard out and it being Hill’s first day at the backfield’s helm, it’s likely Burkhead will get an opportunity to showcase his skills.  He’s a savvy runner who possesses “soft hands” while being a capable blocker.

It’s his proficiency in all three phases of the game that should remind fans of past Bengals running back Brian Leonard.

Burkhead is well-deserving of the opportunity both as a player and as a person.  Earlier this year, Giovani Bernard expressed wanting to emulate Burkhead’s effort and penchant for finishing plays, so the work-ethic is there.  Beyond this, Burkhead has been known for his high character in the community.  His connection to Jack Hoffman, a nine-year-old boy who suffers from brain cancer, has been well documented since his days at Nebraska.  He helped bring awareness to Hoffman’s situation, which has helped Team Jack find donations to help solve pediatric brain cancer.  As both a player and person, Rex Burkhead’s opportunity is well-deserved and may be overdue.

Today’s game may not be the most exciting one for fans as the Bengals have and will play more enticing opponents than the Jaguars.  But no game should be taken lightly in the NFL and fans should enjoy the opportunity to watch a couple of potentially impactful backs today.  The Bengals’ struggle with running the football this year is well known (only 4.0 yards/carry thus far).  Maybe today Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead can provide a spark in this phase of the game.