By Conrad Clowers
Herald Sports Writer
He knew from the second he was drafted that he was going to be caught in the middle of a jam. The Cincinnati Bengals versus Jessie Bates. Team vs. incumbent star. None of it has seemed to bother Dax Hill. At the beginning of 2022, Hill was trying to lead the Michigan Wolverines to a National football championship. He fell considerably short on that bid. His next challenge will be no less or more challenging.
At some point Hill was a rookie at Michigan. The journey went well. It ended with him being the number 1 pick of an NFL team.
Now, the former Michigan star is anchoring the defensive backfield of the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals. Whether Hill keeps the starting spot is up to incumbent Bates. Bates has yet to show up to Bengal training camp, due to wanting a new contract that will pay him as well as the top safeties in the NFL. The Bengals, who claim to want Bates and are even willing to pay him $13 million for the upcoming 2022 season, are not willing to make him the highest paid safety in the league. While the two sides battle it out, Hill continues to get reps and prepare as if he will be the starting safety for the Cincinnati Bengals going into the upcoming season.
This past weekend, Hill got his first taste of the NFL. Hill was one of the few starters on the Bengals that saw action in the first preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. Hill held his own as he assisted with several tackles and nearly bagged his first interception as a Bengal. Hill expresses confidence he can play and play at a high level in the NFL.
Never lacking for star power, the Bengals first round draft pick has produced at every level. In high school, Hill was the Gatorade Player of the year at Booker T Washington in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a true freshman at Michigan. the Tulsa, Oklahoma, native started in three games at Michigan, while playing in 13.
If and when Bates does show up, the Bengals will have a good problem on their hands. Do they go with the first round drafted rookie who will likely take over the starting safety spot, if not now then in the near future for the Bengals? Or do they unseat the rookie for the proven commodity Bates who has produced multiple years for a Super Bowl team?
No matter what scenario Cincinnati goes with, Hill will be in the cards. It will just be a matter of those cards being played now or later. Smart money says Bates will show up in the first week of the regular season, not turning his back on $13 million.
Regardless of Bates’ issues with the Bengals, Hill gives the team a suitable option at the safety position. The former Michigan standout will go through his growing pains as does any other young NFL player, but has the potential to be as productive as much, if not more, as the talented Bates. It will just be a wait and see game starring the Bengals, Dax Hill, and Jesse Bates.