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Hill, Beckham bring star power


Bengals running back Jeremy Hill is the personification of Hue Jackson's smash-mouth philosophy while good friend Odelll Beckham Jr. gives the transitioning Giants juice.

When the Bengals met the Giants on the practice field Tuesday, there was a jolt of star power.

The rock star screams were reserved for Giants quarterback Eli Manning and his prized wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the NFL's current highlights hero in the tradition of Gale Sayers and Deion Sanders.  And when Beckham pawed a practice pass out of the sky with his vintage one hand, Paul Brown Stadium and Geno Smith's jaw were the center of the NFL Twitterverse.

But what about Beckham's LSU buddy, close friend and last year's fellow NFL Rookie of the Year finalist Jeremy Hill, the Bengals' bell cow running back? As balletic as Beckham was down the  stretch, Hill was as brutish in leading the NFL in rushing the last nine weeks of the season.

Extrapolate those numbers over 16 games this season and Hill easily sets the Bengals season rushing record with 1,651 yards on just 306 carries. He'd be the first Bengal in the Green-Dalton era to rush more than 300 times, but Rudi Johnson and Cedric Benson have a combined four seasons of more carries in head coach Marvin Lewis' 13 seasons in Cincinnati.

Of course, it's a much bigger number lately. There hasn't been a 300-carry guy in the AFC since Arian Foster went for 351 in 2012.

And yet it is the low-key Beckham that causes riots when he stops for autographs in tabloid nation and the chatty, outgoing Hill that is under the radar in the stately Queen City.

"That's just something that goes without being said. I'm definitely glad about the situation I'm in," Hill said before practice. "Him being on a team he was in a losing situation, I'm in a winning situation. So for me, that's bigger than anything, being on a team that competes year-in and year-out. Obviously him playing in New York, the expectations are higher as well. But obviously I like the situation I'm in."

Look, Hill is an unabashed fan. His favorite Beckham play is not last season's unworldly one-handed catch, but the punt return against Ole Miss when he took one cut and was gone.

"Probably one of his more iconic plays with the whole Billy Cannon thing," said Hill, ever mindful of Baton Rouge lore and the Halloween, 1959 punt return. "It's very similar. I think people always remember that punt return."

But even Hill has been amazed at the OD'ing on Odell since he came to New York.

"Some stuff I laugh at. It's just crazy," Hill said. "I think he does a really great job handling all that stuff. He has a very strong support system. "

Beckham and Hill did their thing Tuesday, although it looked like Hill had more success, if it matters on a day where they wore full pads but didn't have full contact. The Bengals had a good surge much of the day in the run game and topped it off in the last team drill when Hill broke an inside zone run untouched in the red zone.

And on defense, the Bengals didn't let Giants quarterback Eli Manning go deep often, although they did get one long ball on usually reliable cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris, angling for the sixth corner spot.

Beckham didn't break a big one Wednesday, but the Bengals cornerbacks savored the challenge going against him. Before practice, cornerback Adam Jones said he had heard  of Beckham's exploits, but hadn't watched tape of him because the Bengals have yet to play him. Plus, what's the big deal when he plays one of the best every day in the Bengals' A.J. Green?

"He ain't better than A.J.," Jones said.

But Jones wanted to find out. He took his place in line during 1-on-1s based on Beckham's availability. They hand-dueled off the line and Beckham cut it off quickly to catch a dart from Eli Manning with Jones barely missing getting his hand on it.

"Nice catch," he told him as he ran down the field with him, patting Beckham on the back.

Hill and Beckham are going to carry their respective teams on their backs. Manning's offensive line is devastated and it is backs by committee. Yes, the Bengals have A.J. Green, and Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard, but offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's plans to get the best out of quarterback Andy Dalton rely on a 4.8-yard per carry running game and for that he needs a 235-pound hammer.

Hill is all for it. He worked on his upper  body in the offseason with the idea of breaking more tackles.

"I put my body in the best shape possible, whether that's  20 carries or 10 or 15," Hill said. "I've got to put my body in the best position possible to allow my coaches and my teammates to feed off my energy. I really can't control that stuff. That's a question you probably have to ask our offensive coordinator. I just go out there and do my job.

"I just train. Especially with the expectations going into this year I didn't want to let anyone down. My teammates, the organization. I just want to put myself  in the best position possible. I just worked my butt off  this summer and tried to get in the best shape possible to come out here and do those things."

Hill and Beckham are close enough that they keep in contact virtually every day. When the Giants arrived in Cincinnati Monday night, Hill picked up Beckham at the hotel and drove him over to see wide receiver James Wright to cheer him up after season-ending knee surgery.

The start of their rookie seasons weren't all that different. Beckham couldn't play because of an injury. Hill didn't play until an injury as a rookie getting eased in behind Bernard.

"I think this year his confidence is at an extreme high, just when I've been talking to him," Hill said. "He's getting healthy. Last year he wasn't healthy at all, none of the year. That's what makes it crazy what he did in those games, he wasn't healthy in any of them. This year he's trying to get to Week 1 at 100 percent, and if that happens, then obviously the sky's the limit for him."

And, too, for Hill, who got into the lineup because of an injury, Bernard's bruised ribs in October

"It was just a learning experience. I wouldn't say it was very tough," Hill said. "I was actually getting (fewer) reps last year with BenJarvus (Green-Ellis) being here and also Gio. It wasn't as hard as it was this year. Also, the expectations weren't there as well. For me, being the No. 1 guy, taking on the leadership role, just doing the things this year. Obviously the younger guys who haven't done the reps, they look at me and feed off me. If I'm not doing it right, they won't do it right. That would be the difference from last year."

If it is business as usual this week, Beckham and Hill won't talk business.

 "We talk about everything else. Football is a small piece of everything else," Hill said. "We would definitely talk about it if we had a similar opponent or something like that, we'd pick each other's brains. For the most part we're just catching up, just talking about random stuff."

What is not random is that Hill has been not only been talking like a leader but practicing like one. One veteran said not so long ago how impressed he was that Hill came back practicing so hard after his big rookie year.

"The amount of talent we have and the amount of talent we were missing last year, for this offense it's now or never," Hill said. "If we get everyone healthy, we're one of the more talented teams in this league. Obviously anything less than what our goals are set out to be in going to be a letdown. We have to go out there and do it. We have everyone here."

Certainly for the next couple of days, star power is here.

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