Justice Hill doesn't look like he missed last season with a torn Achilles.
A long touchdown reception by Hill during training camp Monday was more evidence that he has made a full recovery. Hill ran a wheel route down the sideline and accelerated past linebacker Josh Bynes. Lamar Jackson's pass connected with Hill perfectly in stride and he was off to the races for a pretty touchdown.
Hill is having a strong training camp, playing with the confidence of a running back who worked extremely hard to regain his speed and agility.
"I had a long offseason and just prepared for it," Hill said. "I feel good. I don't have any hiccups. Nothing. It's feeling great, so it's really nice and I'm excited to be back out here."
The Ravens' competitive battle at the running back position got a jolt of new energy when lead running back J.K. Dobbins returned to practice Monday. While Dobbins knows he's a major part of the Ravens' offensive plans, Hill can't be sure.
This is a crucial year for Hill, entering his fourth NFL season after the Ravens drafted him in the fourth round in 2019. He's been a regular on special teams, but after getting 58 carries for 225 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, Hill had just 12 carries in 2020 before his 2021 season was wiped out by injury.
The regular-season depth chart has yet to be determined, but Baltimore's running back room is crowded. Gus Edwards is on the PUP list still recovering from a knee injury, leaving Mike Davis, rookie Tyler Badie, Corey Clement, Nate McCrary and Hill all fighting for roles. Hill knows his place on the roster isn't certain, but his performance in camp is strenghtening his case.
Running Backs Coach Craig Ver Steeg has been impressed with Hill's decisiveness since returning from injury. Any mental barriers that Hill faced after his injury less than a year ago (Sept. 6) appear to be gone.
"You see guys come back after those long-term injuries, and you want to feel their mindset," Ver Steeg said. "What we're feeling out of him is, 'Give me everything coach.' You've seen us put him in on downhill runs. It's all coming at him, and he's ready for it all."
Hill is still only 24 years old, with time to make a bigger mark in the league. One of the best backs in the country during his career at Oklahoma State, Hill rushed for 3,539 yards and 30 touchdowns in three seasons (2016-18) while also catching 49 passes. Being away from the game last year only made Hill hungrier to succeed. His younger brother, safety Dax Hill, was the Bengals' first-round pick this year (31st overall), giving the Hill brothers a chance to play against each twice a year in the AFC North. That's more incentive for Hill to make a successful comeback.
"It's going to be fun, man," Hill said. "We've never played against each other."
Hill, Dobbins and Edwards have grown even closer over the past year, three running backs going through the grind of recovering from major injuries. Hill thinks he's a better player than before his injury, and his play in training camp only strengthens that belief. He plans to carry his momentum into the preseason, which begins Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium against the Titans.
"When you get just a year to kind of sit back and reflect and get better at things you need to work on, I definitely feel a lot more confident and a lot better at things that I needed to work on," Hill said. "Coming out here every single day, every single practice, I just want to get better. That's the gist of the whole room. We just want to get better and help each other get better."