As the majority of the 89 players on the Cincinnati Bengals roster were running onto the field with pyrotechnics glowing and Guns’ n Roses blaring ahead of Friday night’s preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers, a smaller group sauntered from the tunnel to the sideline dressed in street clothes.
Twenty-one of them were the projected starters for the Sept. 10 season opener in Cleveland. But the 22nd wasn’t afforded the luxury of a PTO day, and safety Dax Hill said he was fine with that.
Bengals Safety Dax Hill Responds To Playing in Preseason Opener
“I feel like I needed this game just to get my rhythm back and my flow back, just playing football the way I’m used to playing it,” Hill said. “I feel like that was a good starting point.”
It was this same game in 2022, the preseason opener at home, when Hill showed the kind of promise that led the Bengals to draft him in the first round.
With starter Jessie Bates watching from a suite as he continued his holdout in protest of the Bengals using the franchise tag on him, Hill played 64% of the defense snaps, nearly had a leaping interception in the end zone, and looked more than capable of starting for Bates if the holdout spilled into the regular season.
Bates certainly took notice and reported to camp a few days later, and Hill would go on to play only 17 snaps at safety and 130 overall. And that, more than anything, was why he was the only starter who saw action in the 36-19 loss.
“He hasn’t been a starter yet on defense, so (the thought) was just to get him game reps and get him in the groove of things,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “I think that was good for Dax.”
Hill’s workload was not as much as last year’s opener, with him playing just the first three series. But he again came up with a pass defense that was one of the defensive highlights of the night next to fellow safety Tycen Anderson’s pair of interceptions, one of which he returned 40 yards for a touchdown.
On the fourth play of the game, with Green Bay playing all of its offensive starters, Hill covered half the field by racing from the hashmark to the sideline to break up a deep pass from Jordan Love to Christian Watson after the Green Bay wide receiver had gotten behind rookie cornerback DJ Turner.
.@daxhill5 said NOPE.
— NFL (@NFL) August 11, 2023
Hill said it was more than just raw athleticism that allowed him to make the play. He said he picked up a lot during Wednesday’s joint practice with the Packers.
“Just going against him during practice, I knew how his mechanics were, his progression, so I just kind of read him and at the last second broke on the ball,” Hill said. “I knew I was gonna get there for sure.”
“I want to use my intuition as well (as my athleticism),” Hill added. “Sometimes it’s just studying quarterbacks and figuring out what they want to do and move post safeties and create space for the opposite receiver, so I want to get a better feel of that since I’m playing more.”
And the best way to get a better feel is to get more reps, even if he is the only starter on the field.
“I never want to be a player to say ‘I’ve arrived,’ Hill said. “There’s things I still want to prove to myself and to other people around me. I feel like I’m the best player out there whenever I’m out there. And I feel like it’s an opportune time for me right now.”