CINCINNATI -- To those outside Paul Brown Stadium who have watched Jeremy Hill two of the last three weeks, it seems clear: The rookie running back has earned more touches.
Apparently, the men who have offices on the stadium's second floor agree. This is one of those rare situations when fans, media and coaches are all on the same page. Even as starting back Giovani Bernard starts returning from a series of injuries, the ball clearly deserves to be in Hill's hands more than before.
Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said Wednesday that it will be.
"He deserves it," Jackson said.
After all, this is a running back who has 361 yards rushing and an average of 129.6 yards of individual offense in the last three games. This is a player who has two 60-yard-plus runs in those games, both of which played key roles in recent wins.
"Jeremy has done tremendous [work] and he has earned the right to play, there's no question about that," Jackson said.
Jackson didn't want to outline his plan for using Hill and Bernard going forward, but he did admit he wanted to give Hill a larger share of playing time than he had when Bernard was previously healthy. Bernard appears on pace to return to the rotation Sunday at Houston.
Much like A.J. Green when he returned three weeks ago from a nagging foot injury, Bernard isn't expected to be at 100 percent when he hits the field again and will be brought back slowly. In Green's first game back, the Pro Bowl receiver was part of just 56.5 percent of the Bengals' offensive snaps. On Sunday, he played 90.3 percent of the time in his best game since he's been back.
"It's going to be hard for me to just say, 'Let's thrust him in there again and let him go again,'" Jackson said of Bernard. "We've got to work him back into our process and how we do things. What will determine that is just how fast and how we think he is ready to go. He had a tremendous practice [Wednesday] and we'll see where this thing goes."
Jackson said he wouldn't shy away from using Bernard in situations that might cause him to take hard hits. He still wants him to have impact on the interior and to keep taking any of the punishing blows the 5-foot-9, 210-pound back experienced before his injury.
"Yeah, there are some wicked shots that he took earlier in the year, but that's pro football," Jackson said. "Everybody says, well, just run him on the edge. Well, you can get hit on the edge too just as well as you can get hit up the middle. You're going to get hit, that's just the way it goes."
Bernard suffered his hip and clavicle injuries on plays that happened outside the tackle box.
Whatever Bernard's role ultimately becomes, Hill is eager to see how the offense will look with both on the field at the same time. He pointed to the Week 2 win over the Falcons, when Bernard rushed for 90 yards and Hill had 74, as an example of what they can be.
"If I can continue where I left off and he can continue where he left off and we can both get it going at the same time, that can be very dangerous," Hill said.