Bengals to give rookie Hill first-team snaps

CINCINNATI -- Giovani Bernard is still the Cincinnati Bengals' starter at running back.

That's been a fact most of the offseason, and it doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.

But Sunday night, when the Bengals visit the Cardinals in the all-important third preseason game, the one that starters typically play a little longer in, Bernard may be one of the few first-teamers who sees some of his opportunities trimmed a tad.

That's because the Bengals hope to put the ball in rookie Jeremy Hill's hands while he has first-unit blockers and the starting quarterback handing off to him. Hill will get his share of first-team snaps -- the first time that has happened in a preseason game.

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson hinted Thursday at that being a possibility, and on Friday, head coach Marvin Lewis all but confirmed the plan when asked if Hill might see more playing time.

"Probably, likely, yes," Lewis said.

Hill has practiced with Cincinnati's starting offense, but he hasn't yet appeared in a game with the group or spent significant time with it. As the Bengals try to finalize the shape of their roster and its rotations, they plan to give the rookie more opportunities to contribute.

"We're excited about Jeremy," Lewis said. "He's come in here and he's been such a great runner of the football, rusher of the football. But to be able to do it consistently on this level and to get a chance to do it [against] a really good football team ... we expect big things out of Jeremy this year, so you get to see a good glimpse of him this week."

Jackson said Hill was "worthy" of playing more regularly with the starting unit.

The Bengals selected the LSU product in the draft's second round in May. Since his arrival, he has been used in varying roles as a backup to Bernard.

In the first two preseason games, veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis -- whose job Hill is believed to be close to taking -- has gotten game action before the rookie. Both have appeared after Bernard finished with the rest of the starters at the beginning of the games. With Green-Ellis out most of this week with a stomach virus that has attacked the team the past two weeks and Rex Burkhead nursing a knee injury, Hill could see extensive action with the backup offensive units too.

Through two preseason games, Hill has nine carries for 52 yards. His 5.8 yards per carry average leads the team's running backs.