FOXBORO, Mass. — Jeremy Hill scored a resounding victory Thursday night in his roster battle against fellow New England Patriots running back Mike Gillislee.
Hill was one of the few offensive standouts in New England’s preseason-opening 26-17 win over the Washington Redskins at Gillette Stadium, carrying the ball 11 times for 51 yards and a touchdown in his Patriots debut.
“I’m trying to just continue to build and build, and hopefully I can get a prominent role on offense,” said Hill, who is competing with Gillislee for what likely will be just one spot on the 53-man roster. “But if that’s not the case, then whatever the coaches have for me, that’ll be good for me. I just want to make the team and continue to try to help this team win.”
Hill entered the game at the start of the second quarter and delivered a jolt of energy to the Patriots’ stagnant, Brian Hoyer-led offense with an 11-yard dash on his first carry. He ripped off another 10-yard run on the team’s next possession, then touched the ball seven times during a 19-play, 84-yard march that produced New England’s first touchdown.
Hill extended that drive with a 12-yard catch-and-run on third-and-8 — fending off linebacker Jerod Fernandez with a mean stiff-arm in the process — then plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out six plays later.
Though he played just a portion of New England’s offensive snaps, Thursday night’s performance was Hill’s best in over a year. He hadn’t gained more than 50 yards on the ground in any game since Week 14 of the 2016 season, having slogged through an injury-shortened 2017 campaign that easily was the worst of his four-year career.
After rushing for 1,124 yards as a rookie in 2014 and scoring 30 total touchdowns over his first three seasons, the former Cincinnati Bengal managed just 116 yards on 37 carries with zero scores in seven games last season before landing on injured reserve and undergoing ankle surgery.
Following the surgery — and at the urging of the Patriots, who signed him in March — Hill sought to lose weight and increase his agility. That strategy seems to be paying dividends for the 25-year-old, who says he’s dropped 10 pounds and feels “lighter on (his) feet.”
“I can get in and out of cuts and kind of make people miss a little better now,” he said. “That’s something I’ve been working on this entire offseason with (strength and conditioning coach) Moses (Cabrera) and our entire strength staff. So (I need to) just continue to do that stuff, and hopefully it’ll help me with my play out there on the field.”
While Hill put his best foot forward against the Redskins, Gillislee stumbled. He finished with 43 yards on 14 carries (3.1 yards per carry), and a botched handoff between him and Danny Etling resulted in a fourth-quarter fumble that Washington recovered. The fumble was charged to Etling, but the fact Gillislee, who started the game, was still on the field in the final quarter was not a great sign for the veteran back.
Hill already appeared to have a slight edge over Gillislee entering the night based on practice performance. That gap undoubtedly widened.
“There’s still a lot more I can do,” Hill said, “but this is definitely a good start to where I need to be, for sure.”
Undrafted rookie running back Ralph Webb also had a solid showing, rushing 14 times for 46 yards and two touchdowns (plus two two-point conversions) in the second half. Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead both sat out with injuries, and James White and Brandon Bolden played sparingly.
Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images