Bengals rookie defensive back impressing early

Credit: Aaron Doster

Credit: Aaron Doster

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor put a play from a previous practice on the wipe board in a team meeting to highlight how rookie safety Dax Hill called it correctly and got the defense lined up in the right spots to make a play. But Hill didn’t think too long about the recognition. To him, that’s his job, whether he is new to the defense or not.

With free safety Jessie Bates not attending the team’s offseason workouts, Hill has been filling in a lot at his position – jumping right in with the first team and making himself comfortable.

It’s good experience out of the gate and the coaches have been impressed with how he’s handled himself, enough to single him out in a meeting.

“It was just an example of how to communicate on a high level,” Hill said. “A lot of moving pieces toward the offense so really just having good communication is kind of important, being the safety or on defense in general, so I think that’s what it was.”

Perhaps getting thrown in with the best competition on the team has helped raise his level of play, but Hill said he prides himself on good communication regardless who he is playing with or against.

That is what impresses Taylor the most about Hill.

“I think the part that’s maybe the most impressive is I always see him having these sidebar conversations with some of those veterans whether it be Vonn (Bell) or Mike (Hilton) or Chido (Awuzie) or some of those guys. It’s after a rep, it’s after drill, whether it’s him asking questions or whether them helping him get up to speed, that’s what you want to see from the rookies is not feel like there’s that wall between them and the vets communication wise, not to be intimidated.”

Hill said he’s not used to being a player that lines guys up, but veterans Vonn Bell and Mike Hilton make that easier for him because they also have a high football IQ and are experienced in the system.

The Bengals also like the versatility Hill brings to the defense, though on the field he has been mainly filling one role at free safety. When Bates returns, assuming he plays on the franchise tag or gets a long-term deal done before July 15, Hill could be asked to fill multiple depth needs. He can play either safety role, slot or outside corner.

Taylor said Hill is learning different responsibilities throughout the offseason even if he isn’t in position to test them all out in practices.

“Maybe technique-wise they don’t get to spend the time doing all the stuff, but they’re in those meetings, they hear it all,” Taylor said. “They’re forced to make those communications. A lot of times at safety you get put in those spots that the linebackers play and the nickels play. They get that work one way or another. It may not be the position they’re labeled at, but they get that work just the way that we utilize those guys.”

Taylor noted there is a lot of crossover between strong and free safety, so Hill could easily transition between the two as needed.

However, the Bengals want their versatile players first honing in on one position to master, which is what Hill is doing at free safety. Uncertainty with Bates’ contract situation makes that more of a priority perhaps.

“Let’s get good at playing that position,” Taylor said. “Again, there’s just so much natural crossover that shows up that they start to understand the concepts. That’s what you really want in both phases is people understanding concepts and not memorizing the job that this specific position has.”

Hill said the work put in during the first two phases of the offseason helped lay a strong base for OTAs when the defense can go against the offense in non-contact competition.

“I’ve been learning a lot of different positions, but it’s coming natural, really,” he said. “They’re putting me more in a comfort zone really not having a competition aspect of it. Now we’ll have that competition going against the offense and we’ll see how it goes.”

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