Bengals' young RBs embrace competition

CINCINNATI -- The year Jeremy Hill joined LSU's football program, he wasn't expected to do much.

At the start of the Tigers' preseason camp in 2012, he was considered, at best, to be the team's fifth running back.

But before too long, those perceptions would change. He finished the year as LSU's primary rushing weapon and was one of its top overall playmakers.

That is why as Hill begins embracing the idea of having to compete for a roster spot, he doesn't appear too worried.

"It can only elevate your game," Hill said of the competition. "We have a bunch of guys, especially veterans who know what their doing and new guys who are coming in with the same knowledge as you, you get it from all angles. So you've got guys competing as rookies, and you're competing with the vets, as well. Just the more the merrier for me, because it just ups my level of play."

He'll be joined in the backfield battles by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead, and undrafted free agents Jeff Scott and James Wilder Jr.

Much has been debated since last weekend's draft about what Hill's selection meant for Cincinnati's ballcarriers, specifically Green-Ellis. It has widely been viewed as a sign that Green-Ellis will be released at some point this offseason. With a cap savings of $2.5 million, Green-Ellis' release would add to the Bengals' available salary-cap space. That figure sits just shy of $24.5 million, but much of it is expected to be occupied on contracts for quarterback Andy Dalton and linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

With the Bengals needing to sign Dalton, Burfict and the eight draft picks soon, that $24.5 million, plus the potential $2.5 million cap savings a Green-Ellis cut could provide, will evaporate quickly.

Whether Green-Ellis gets cut is a moot point. The Bengals have specified their interest in wanting to keep him around, and continuing to give him opportunities to prove he belongs.

Wilder could be one of the young undrafted running backs who makes the team. He fits a lot of what the Bengals are looking for in terms of running style, strength and size.

"They want physicality, and I feel I can bring that to the table," Wilder said. "They already had it, but bringing even more of it to the table with a few of us younger guys should help bring even more firepower into the backfield."

At Florida State, Wilder was used in a multi-back system and was the bruiser of the bunch.

For Cincinnati, Bernard provides the lightning in an offense that is predicated on getting the ball in the playmaker's hands. Green-Ellis is a physical runner, but didn't have a rush for more than 25 yards last season. Hill is a bigger back who can break long runs on the edge, dive ahead in between the tackles and catch passes. Wilder can do some of those things, too.

According to Hill, the veterans are helping out the younger players and helping them understand the way the organization and the NFL works.

"I'm just picking up anything I can from those guys as far as advice and understanding plays," Hill said. "That will all be helpful and it'll help build great camaraderie in our running back room."

Among the most helpful to Hill? Green-Ellis, he says; the player whose job he is out to take.