What position will Dax Hill play this season for Bengals?

Cincinnati’s signing of two safeties in free agency adds competition for secondary spots

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor indicated the staff has a “pretty good idea” what kind of role Dax Hill will play this season after the signing of two more-proven safeties in free agency.

If there is a plan in place, the third-year defensive back is not yet aware of it.

Hill said the organization was open with him about the decision to bring in former Baltimore Ravens free safety Geno Stone and to re-sign strong safety Vonn Bell for a second stint following a year away with Carolina.

However, Hill came into the start of the offseason workout program Monday unclear what his role will be. The Bengals have always classified him as a versatile player they can use in multiple spots, but what happens in next week’s draft could be a determining factor in where he ends up.

“It’s up in the air right now,” Hill said. “We’ll see how things go, but everything’s kind of just up in the air. We’ll see how things go and just play it from there. Whatever they ask of me, whatever that is, I’m gonna do it. But I mean, whatever the position that I’ll be in, I’m gonna give it my all.”

Hill is open to anything, but it won’t be the first time he’s been unsettled in a role. When the Bengals drafted him in the first round in 2022, he was viewed as Jessie Bates’ eventual replacement at free safety but he felt like he struggled a bit his rookie season because he was learning multiple roles and couldn’t focus on one position while working as a backup free safety, a third safety in certain defensive packages and as an emergency outside cornerback.

He spent the first part of that rookie year with the first-team defense at free safety while Bates sat out of the offseason workout program and most of training camp. Once Bates arrived, the Bengals shifted Hill’s focus to learning other spots where he could provide depth.

Last year with Bates departed, Hill played almost every single snap at free safety but struggled, leaving doubts to his future in that spot. That contributed to the signing of Stone and the return of Bell to provide veteran experience and a mentor to a young secondary, but Hill viewed it as a learning experience.

“I feel like there’s always some things to correct, but I kind of just did some reflection and made sure that I’m a different person whenever I came in, so, I feel like there’s some things I need to correct and, you know, I’m looking forward to the new year,” Hill said.

Hill said there were some plays he wishes he could have back, mainly a few dropped interceptions that had he caught, perhaps his 2023 season would be talked about in a different light. He spent the offseason “locked in on that,” making sure to work on his hand-eye coordination so drops won’t be an issue this year.

Despite a roller-coaster start to his NFL career and the uncertainty he now faces, Hill seems to be in a good place mentally and emotionally as he tries to block the outside noise.

“I feel like there are some things people haven’t even seen yet,” Hill said. “They can talk all they want. It’s something that I’m proud of that I put my best foot forward. There is nothing I’m going to be stressing out about.”

Hill wasn’t the only one struggling on defense last year. The Bengals gave up the most explosive plays (10 yards or more) in the league, and it didn’t help there were communication issues in the back end, which featured four first- or second-year players starting over the final seven games.

Changes at strong safety midseason with the shift from Nick Scott to rookie Jordan Battle also impacted the ability for Hill to develop chemistry with his playing partner, but he said “that’s life in the NFL.”

“It was a step for me, but, I mean, I feel like I did well sometimes,” Hill said. “It wasn’t the best, but you know, I feel like (there’s) some things I can take away from that and I feel like I can come back from that this year.”

Hill acknowledges how important this year is for him to show growth. His focus is on “taking the next step,” which he noted starts now in the offseason workouts.

Asked if his goal is still to be a safety, Hill said he’s “not really worried about anything” like that because he just wants to be the “best version” of himself.

“I can’t really predict the future,” Hill said. “I can control what I put out on a daily basis. What I put out weekly. That’s something I try to do the best that I can. Whatever position that is going forward. I’m just going to do the best I can.”

Taylor said he will let the offseason play out before getting more into the plans for Hill, but the staff feels comfortable with the communication with him so far. Hill shared that he was grateful the organization was up front about the plans to sign Stone and Bell.

More clarity to his role now would help, but that will come.

“That’s what training camp and things like that are for, OTAs,” Hill said. “It’s kind of right now, just setting the blueprint for what’s to come.”

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