Hill connects the dots

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 Jeremy (Down) Hill looks to be back on track.

Bengals running back Jeremy Hill's nine-yard touchdown run off a zone play Thursday night unfolded just the way he's envisioned his upcoming season

Even down to the sprint back to the sidelines without the end-zone celebration.

"I'm not celebrating this year," Hill said Sunday. "No."

Cincinnati Bengals host practice at West Carrollton High School 8/21/2016

That matches the no-nonsense approach Hill has brought into this season. Not that he wasn't always no-nonsense, but after a season he saw his Rookie of the Yearish 5.1 yards per carry drop to 3.6, he's more like a focused veteran than a happy-go-lucky rookie. His celebrations were the most creative since The Ocho, starting and ending with the homage to "The Ickey Shuffle."

But no more.

"I'll celebrate for him,' said running backs coach Kyle Caskey as he walked off the West Carrolton High School field. "I'll take care of that."

Head coach Marvin Lewis also took the no-nonsense approach during the club's foray into Dayton. In what figured to be a light practice with their next game a week away in Jacksonville (Sunday Night Football at 8 on Cincinnati's Channel 5), the Bengals worked for two hours in shorts and shoulder pads before a standing room only crowd of about 6,300 at the home of the Pirates and their ship.

"We have these couple days, then they'll have a day off, then we'll have three more days and head to Jacksonville," Lewis said. "So this was really a good opportunity for them to really get a chance to do football. We had such a quick turnaround last week; we didn't get to really work back in training camp. Today we're back in training camp."

 Don't look now (and Hill isn't), but he's carried six times this season and his average is a good-old-days 5.3 with one touchdown. With 20 touchdowns during the regular season, no one has scored more rushing touchdowns in the NFL since Hill came into the league in 2014 as a second-rounder from LSU.

"He's decisive. He's confident. He's running with power and aggression," Caskey said, "and doing it with acceleration we all knew he had and he's putting it all together."

If there was no celebration on his most recent touchdown, then there was 100 percent dotage. He ran behind the blocks of Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth and left guard Clint Boling.

 "I want to be 100 percent on my dots,' Hill said. "Dots. The guys I'm looking at to make my cut. That's what I want to do. I just want to be solid on my reads. Be effective and efficient out there. Get better every time."

The theories for Hill's drop-off? Nothing big like the conspiracy theories about Hillary's health or The Donald's taxes. They range from they were calling too many plays for Hill that better fit his speed-back partner Giovani Bernard to that Hill was running his own plays more like the jack-rabbit Bernard rather than his own big-back-down-hill style.

Guys like Caskey and Hill aren't buying any of that stuff. The only difference Caskey sees from this year and last year is that so far Hill is doing a better job of running the plays they're giving him.

Right tackle Eric Winston doesn't see anything major, either.

"Jeremy has always been good. I think we just have to keep putting him in positions to be successful," said Winston, who helped Hill gouge Denver for 147 yards in his first start with the Bengals in late 2014. "Gio is going to do his thing, catch the ball out of the backfield and the one-back runs back there. We're seeing flashes from a lot of guys from a lot of positions.

"We didn't go into any meeting this year like, 'Guys, we're scrapping whatever we did before.' I think it's just been more of a renewed effort to do things a little bit better," Winston said. "We're focusing in on some things, and that's been good. It's paying dividends. I think Jeremy has run the ball well. I think there is very good cohesion right now between the backs and the O-line and where things are going to be and how we're setting it up for them, and I think it's just going to keep getting better."

For Hill's part, he's extremely focused and has blinders on when it comes to last year. His no-nonsense approach is all wrapped up in 2016. Asked if he's more decisive this season and concentrating on propelling his 230 pounds more north and south, Hill shrugged.

"I'll let you guys decide. I don't really care about that stuff," Hill said. "I just want to bet better and help my team.

"I have to be more dynamic this year and make more plays," he said.  "All I'm looking to do in the preseason is just trying to get in sync with my offensive line and just keep working at getting in shape for the regular season."

Hill says he has no idea what his numbers are this season such as the 5.3. But that 3.6 gnaws at him. Asked if he wasn't putting the dots together last year he said, "The stats will say that, so that's something I have to perform."

And that will be celebrated even if there are no celebrations.

 

Cincinnati Bengals take on the Detroit Lions at Ford Field in week 2 of the preseason 8/18/2016

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