New England Patriots

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

When the Patriots called running back Jeremy Hill in free agency, surprise turned into a mad dash to the airport.

“Their name never got mentioned once and then I got a call saying they wanted me on a visit and I jumped on a plane as quick as I could,” Hill said. “I’m excited about the opportunity that they have [in New England] for me.”

But admitting that he had drawn interest from more than a few NFL teams at the start of NFL free agency, why would the 25-year-old Hill decide to join the already-crowded backfield of the New England Patriots?

“Just the competition and just what the coaches told me – that I was going to have to earn everything that I got here – and that’s what I wanted to hear because I feel like a lot of places can say this and say that, but in reality no one really knows,” Hill said on Tuesday. “I’m glad that they were upfront and real about that, and that’s something that I respected about Coach [Bill] Belichick and Coach [Josh] McDaniels and that’s what kind of drew me to come here.

“[The Patriots are] probably the most well-prepared team I’ve ever played [against], just defensively, offensively, low turnovers, low penalties and it’s just really tough to beat teams like that. It’s going to be good to be on the other side of that,” Hill continued. “We got to be blessed with the ‘On to Cincinnati’ game and that didn’t end well for us, so it’ll be good to be on the other side of that. We’ve got to take it day-by-day and keep building up to that point.”

Taking a one-year, $1.5 million gamble on himself to make it under Belichick’s forever-unpredictable backfield breakdown, Hill knows what he’s walking into with a running back group headlined by James White and Rex Burkhead, and with Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden, and 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel in the background.

“It’s great. It’s high. Obviously, those guys have played in Super Bowls and played at high levels and played big in playoff games, so the competition is definitely there, but I have all the faith in myself to go out there and compete at a high level, as well,” Hill offered. “It’ll only bring the best out of all of us. I think that’s how we want to approach every day, just playing at a high level, all of us and only good things can come from that.”

And after totaling just 116 rushing yards in seven games with the Bengals last season, and with ankle surgery officially behind him, the 6-foot-1 Hill believes that his clean bill of health will finally allow him to return to form.

“It was something I was dealing with for about two years,” Hill, who opted to get the surgery done at the expense of the second half of last season instead of waiting until the offseason, said of his ankle woes. “I just wasn’t myself. I really didn’t have the flexibility and the strength in it that I needed to be the back that I wanted to be, so I’m glad that I got it done and I can get it back to 100 percent and be the back that I know I can be.”

A rusher that totaled 30 touchdowns (29 rushing, one catching) in his first three seasons, Hill also views a more balanced role within the New England offense as something that could bring the best out of his game.

“When you go somewhere with a lot of competition in the backfield, obviously, you want to be out there playing, but in the big scheme of things your health is all you have at the end of the day because you only have one body,” Hill, who rushed for over 1,100 yards as a rookie in 2014, acknowledged. “I think for us, I don’t know what they’re going to do, but from the past they’ve rotated [running backs], so I’m pretty sure that’s probably something they’ll do again.

“You’ve got to recreate yourself and reprove yourself every year. For me that’s something that I definitely want to do.”

Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.