Lower-body work has Jeremy Hill expecting to break more tackles

CINCINNATI -- As strong a rookie season as Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill had last year, his offensive coordinator was bothered by two significant issues.

Repeatedly late in the season, Hue Jackson berated Hill both publicly and privately for not breaking enough tackles, and for letting the ball get out of his grasp too many times. Hill, who had only one fumble during his two-season college career, had five of them in 2014.

Jackson's frustrations reached their apex going into Week 14, when Hill had just rushed for 40 yards in a one-point win at Tampa Bay. Right after the game, Hill told the Bengals' website the Buccaneers were bringing too many players to the line of scrimmage, and that made it difficult for him to discover many holes.

A day later, Jackson vented his displeasure about Hill's comments.

"What Jeremy wants to do -- I don't care if it's eight men or seven men [in the box] -- break tackles, OK? That's what running backs do," Jackson said. "At the end of the day, his job is to run through somebody and come out the other side and go find a way to score, period. So all his drop-down, who did this, did what -- that ain't his call."

It's clear that message has been received this offseason.

Despite rushing for 1,124 yards and finishing the year as the NFL's most prolific rusher across the final nine weeks of the regular season, Hill has worked in recent months to fulfill Jackson's wishes.

While maintaining the same 235 pounds he played at last season, Hill's weight-lifting focus this spring and summer has revolved around beefing up his legs. He wants to better run through defenders.

"For me, it's just getting that acceleration from the first level to the second level," Hill said earlier this month. "I'm just trying to lift my acceleration up and miss more tackles. That's the biggest thing for me. The first guy got me down way too much last season."

That isn't completely accurate, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Perhaps Hill didn't do as great a job running through tackles as he and Jackson might have liked, however, Hill actually handled initial contact quite well compared to the rest of the league.

Per Stats & Information, Hill averaged 2.29 yards after contact on running plays. That was the fourth-highest average in the league behind LeGarrette Blount (2.57), Marshawn Lynch (2.53) and Eddie Lacy (2.39).

Hill also ranked seventh in the number of yards he collected after contact on rushes with 508.

That still wasn't good enough for the Bengals.

While the non-contact nature of organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp made it difficult for coaches to truly see any changes in Hill's acceleration, Jackson believes the building blocks for better tackle-breaking have been laid.

"He's done a good job in the weight room," Jackson said. "That's where it starts. Our strength coaches have done a good job. Our strength coaches and [head coach] Marvin [Lewis] have created an environment in there where guys are competing in there. Hopefully it'll show up out here on the field.

"Do I see some things that look promising? Yes."