- Associated Press - Friday, May 9, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) - Running back Jeremy Hill wrote a lengthy letter to all 32 NFL teams, telling them he wouldn’t be a problem if they drafted him. The Bengals took him at his word.

Cincinnati chose Hill in the second round on Friday night, showing their commitment to running the ball under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. He fit the power profile they wanted for a runner. They weren’t very concerned about his problems at LSU.

“He comes here with a skill set and knowledge of the game,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “That will allow him to be really productive early in his career here. He’s a big man that can run and catch. That’s something we wanted, to add another strong runner to our team.”

The Bengals took defensive end Will Clarke from West Virginia in the third round, restocking a line that lost end Michael Johnson to free agency. Two of their first three picks filled their biggest needs on defense.

It’s the second year in a row that the Bengals have taken a running back in the second round. They got Giovani Bernard with the 37th overall pick last year. They also return power runner BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

No running back was taken until the 54th overall pick on Friday, when Bishop Sankey went to Tennessee. The Bengals took Hill with the next pick, and Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde went to San Francisco with the 57th pick as teams made a run on the position.

Hill didn’t lose a fumble at LSU. He also can catch the ball, something Cincinnati values in its West Coast offense. Green-Ellis caught only four passes last season, while Bernard caught 56. The tandem of Hill and Bernard give the Bengals a young duo in the backfield that can do a little bit of everything.

“He can catch the ball,” Jackson said. “He really demonstrated that on his pro day. They split him out and he caught passes.”

The biggest concern involved his off-field problems. Video showed Hill punching a man outside a bar in April. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to community service. He already was on probation from a misdemeanor involving a sexual relationship with a girl at his high school.

That’s why Hill wrote the note to every team.

“A lot of people, especially the analysts, had me going in the fourth or fifth round with off-field character issues and things,” Hill said. “I wanted to let them know I wasn’t trying to hide anything. Anything that’s out there, it’s open game. I was a young man who made mistakes. I don’t know any young man who hasn’t made mistakes.”

Cincinnati split its first two picks between defense and offense.

The Bengals chose cornerback Darqueze Dennard with the 24th overall pick on Thursday night, adding some youth to the oldest position in the team. Dennard won the Jim Thorpe Award given to the nation’s top defensive back.

They felt better about the defensive end spot when they were able to get Clarke.

Johnson left for Tampa Bay as a free agent after developing into a formidable pass rusher and pass blocker. The 6-foot-7 end was known for deflecting passes. At 6-foot-6, Clarke shares some of his characteristics. The Bengals are hoping he’ll put on some weight - he’s 271 pounds - and grow into the same type of disruptive player.

Last year, the Bengals 6-foot-8, 280-pound defensive end Margus Hunt in the second round. Clarke gives them another tall pass rusher.

“He’s a prototype for what we look for in defensive ends,” coordinator Paul Guenther said. “There’s not many of those guys in the draft.”

Clarke started all 12 games for West Virginia last season and had 17 tackles for losses, six sacks and three passes batted down - reminiscent of Johnson.

“I think there are some comparisons (to Johnson), but let’s compare him in two or three seasons,” Lewis said. “Michael grew into that and did a nice job here, which is what we want. We want to continue to grow great players.”


Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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