Barging into this Tiger Tale of LSU-Bengals-Saints reunion in New Orleans Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) is the man who made possible Cincinnati's win during its last trip to Bourbon Street that was utterly necessary in a playoff run.
Former Bengals running back Jeremy Hill is a radio personality in his hometown of Baton Rouge and also does LSU's postgame radio show. So here's a preview of his first stint on the Bengals.com Media Roundtable.
"I'm never picking against Joey B. That's my guy and Ja'Marr (Chase) is one of the top five receivers in the league," said Hill after signing off on Thursday's show he hosts with Hunt Palmer on 104.5 ESPN Baton Rouge. "Even though I've got my guys Jarvis Landry and "The Honey Badger," playing for the Saints, I've got to go with Joey B. That's a bad boy right there."
When Hill was a rookie out of LSU in 2014 on the way to a 1,000-yard season that bailed out the Bengals' injury-stricken offense, Burrow was leading Athens High School to the Ohio Division III state title game.
A lot of water under the bridge.
Despite his heroics on a 10-5-1 Wild Card team that played all season with banged-up receivers and got their first 1,000-yard performance by a rookie running back since Corey Dillon, Bengals fans remember Hill for what happened the next season. The Bobble, his fumble with 1:23 left in the 2015 Wild Wild Card at Paycor Stadium and the Bengals leading the Steelers by a point, spurred a surreal span of 83 seconds. The Bengals were ousted, Hill played only one more year for the Bengals under a cloud and an injury-plagued half a year after that for the Patriots.
Despite the loss in the title game and transferring from Ohio State, Burrow left Baton Rouge with the Heisman, LSU's national title and the Bengals' overall No. 1 draft selection that eventually ended the 2015 nightmare when he teamed with his top target at LSU, Ja'Marr Chase, to lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl.
"Any time Joey B is playing, I'm watching," Hill said. "I'm always cheering on my LSU guys. People are going to be fans. It's short for fanatics. I'm on the other side of the street now. I understand how people think and what goes through their minds. I don't hold it against anybody. They love their Bengals and want their Bengals to win.
"Obviously that game couldn't have ended any worse, especially for the fans who had been rooting for the Bengals for so long. If they have something they want to say to me, have at it. I have no issues with that. That comes with the game. Seeing the success they had last year, it's great for the city and great for Joey and Ja'Marr. Look, I pick the Bengals to win the AFC again this year. I would like to see (running back) Joe Mixon get the running game going. I think that'd be a big help."
No question, comments, always the comments, used to eat at him. But life is too good, now. When he played for the Bengals he dabbled with ESPN and NFL Network and found that he liked it and was good at it.
He can't go to the game Sunday because he's got a late Saturday night game with LSU and he's got to get going on prep work for his show.
"I'm one of you now. I've got my media credentials," Hill said. "I like getting on the coaches now instead of having the gun pointed at me."
Another reason he's big on the Bengals is right tackle La'el Collins played with Hill at Redemptorist High School.
"That's my brother. I'm glad he's there, man," Hill said. "I know he's a little banged up right now, but I know when he comes back he's going to be a big help."
LSU fans can't get enough of Burrow and Chase, either. In fact, Hill says, the only thing they can talk about is 2019 and that undefeated national championship and how it can happen again and all Hill can tell them is that it was a one-in-a-lifetime team.
"It's amazing. Obviously no GM would pass up Joey B," Hill said, "and to get a guy he fully trusts in Ja'Marr and then to have the year they had, I'm just happy for those guys."
It will be recalled that Hill was that guy in 2014. Starting wide receiver Marvin Jones never got on the field. Future Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert lasted nine snaps into the season and Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green missed basically five games.
But Hill was always there. Grinding at 5-3-1 into the Superdome, the Bengals beat the 4-5 Saints, 27-10, for a huge win that started a three-game road trip they swept. In front of family and friends, Hill had a career-high 27 carries, one of them a 62-yarder that broke the Saints' back on the way to 152 yards.
He knows they could use that now.
"People have to define people," Hill said. "Mark Sanchez went to two AFC championship games and he's the butt-fumble guy. J.R. Smith is the guy that didn't shoot the basketball and didn't take a timeout in the playoffs, even though he hit 13 threes. I know they're going to remember me for one play and not say anything about the 1,000-yard season or leading the league in (rushing) touchdowns (in 2015) or not fumbling the entire next season. That's OK. That's sports."
And, now, Hill is covering sports. But he has a rooting interest.
"Let's get them (the Bengals) going this week," Hill said.
BELL ON TEAR: With three interceptions in the last two games for his first picks of the year, strong safety Vonn Bell is on pace for ten interceptions. It'd be the most for the Bengals since Reggie Nelson went to the Pro Bowl with the Bengals safety record of eight in 2015 and only the second double-digit interceptions season in club annals, matching cornerback Deltha O'Neal's ten in 2005.
Bell had one interception in his first four seasons in New Orleans and returns with four in his three Bengals seasons. He's not saying much about going back this weekend, but clearly the Saints didn't re-sign him after the 2019 season and just as clearly he's been a huge boost for the Bengals on the field and in the locker room.
"Definitely," said left end Sam Hubbard. "It's character. He brings guys along."
The free-agent signings of Bell and nose tackle D.J. Reader in the first days of the 2020 pandemic turned out to be the foundation for a defense that goes into Sunday ranked eighth in points allowed and seventh in rushing.
Bell's interceptions showed the Bengals homework.
"When we got him I think people knocked maybe his range that maybe this guy is just a box safety," said defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo this week. "I never thought that. I never thought that at Ohio State. I thought he had range to make plays. Is he going to be Ed Reed? No, there is only one Ed Reed. He doesn't have to be. He can be Vonn Bell."
Anarumo shot back to the AFC North clincher in the Jan. 2 win over the Chiefs. He is never going to forget it. Patrick Mahomes winding up for a killing deep ball and Bell racing back to break it up.
Saved the game.
"As good of a range play as you'll find," Anarumo said. "You've got the ball in the air with Mahomes throwing it and Hill's down there and he knocks the ball out. That game is different if he doesn't."
So much of it, Anarumo says, is the study and the preparation. He's got a good idea what the offense is going to do.
"He's at the high level or high end of all of that," Anarumo said. "You want to be a professional? It takes sacrifice and he does that. It's all the stuff that people don't see. First one in the weight room at 5:30-6 in the morning every day. You want to talk about being a professional athlete and doing things and people say they get paid a lot of money they should do that. Well, we all know that's not reality. He is a special guy and he does things the right way and the more guys you have around like that the more successful you're going to be as an organization."
INJURY UPDATE: Friday looks to be the determining day for left tackle Jonah Williams (knee) and wide receiver Tee Higgins (ankle) after they missed their second straight practice Thursday. Both played Sunday night in Baltimore, Williams returning to play in the second half after dislocating his kneecap and Higgins bowing out after ten snaps on an ankle he hurt in the Sept. 29 Thursday night win.
Tight end Hayden Hurst (groin), running back Samaje Perine (abdomen) and tight end Devin Asiasi (ankle) went limited for the second straight day. Right tackle La'el Collins, who rested his back Wednesday, went limited Thursday. That's pretty how much how it went last week and everybody played.
If Williams can't go, third-year Hakeem Adeniji most likely draws the start at left tackle, where he started three games as a rookie. Last year he played guard and started on the right side in the Super Bowl. It looks like he'd be over end Marcus Davenport, who has a .5 sack this season and 21.5 across five seasons.