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'Hungrier' Kylin Hill trusting the process during comeback

Packers’ second-year running back working his way back from first major injury

RB Kylin Hill
RB Kylin Hill

GREEN BAY – Injuries are never easy, but the situation and timing could not have been worse for Kylin Hill last October.

After a disappointing draft slide, the Packers' rookie seventh-round pick felt as though he was just beginning to hit his stride and show what he's all about as Green Bay traveled to play Arizona on Thursday Night Football.

Head Coach Matt LaFleur echoed those feelings, having spoken openly during his news conferences about his desire to get Hill more touches on offense.

All that early momentum was halted, however, when Hill tore his anterior cruciate ligament after a scary incident on a third-quarter kickoff return against the Cardinals. In a flash, his season was over.

It was new territory for the former Mississippi State standout, who'd never sustained a major injury before. Prior to declaring for the NFL Draft, Hill had started all 27 games in which he'd appeared for the Bulldogs during his final three college seasons.

"What's tough is not being able to play and just watching," Hill said. "Because I've been a part of the game for so long. It's part of the game. What you gotta do, you gotta do."

Hill made the Packers' 53-man roster as the No. 3 running back after amassing 174 all-purpose yards and two of the offense's three touchdowns during the preseason.

While Hill didn't return kickoffs in Starkville, the 5-foot-10, 214-pound back was tabbed as Green Bay's kickoff returner due to his explosiveness and jump-cutting ability.

Hill fit right in with the Packers' running backs. AJ Dillon often liked to joke with the rookie that Hill's quickness, strength and deceptive power reminded him of a young Aaron Jones.

To see a major injury rip away a massive opportunity from Hill was difficult for the entire room.

"I know how much it's hurting him to not be out there," said Dillon of Hill. "He loves football, loves the game, so I'm excited for him to get back whenever he's healthy enough to be full go and they give him the green light for him to show everybody what he has."

The support of teammates has helped. Jaire Alexander, David Bakhtiari, Robert Tonyan and Elgton Jenkins all offered advice to Hill throughout the rehab process.

Hill has spent a lot of time this spring with both Jenkins and Tonyan, who also tore his ACL in that Week 8 game against the Cardinals. The trio talk every day, providing words of encouragement and motivation to get back on the field.

When he's not rehabbing, Hill has been diligent about staying in his playbook and understanding the level of detail new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia expects on his unit.

Hill actually has some history with Bisaccia, whom he was introduced to during the pre-draft process in 2021. So far, the second-year running back has liked what he's seen.

There also been a bit of a change on the offensive side of the ball with Adam Stenavich taking over as coordinator for Nathaniel Hackett, now the head coach of the Denver Broncos.

"He's done a great job really of doing more with trying to learn the offense," said running backs coach Ben Sirmans last month. "Physically, he's doing all that's asked of him. I think he's a little hungrier. He understands what's expected of him as a pro. Sometimes as a rookie, you're trying to get a feel for your environment and what's going on around you. I expect that he'll be a lot more on point this year."

The competition will again be stiff in the backfield this summer behind Jones and Dillon. Joining Hill and Patrick Taylor are undrafted rookies Tyler Goodson and BJ Baylor.

Goodson racked up a remarkable 2,551 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns in three seasons at Iowa, while Baylor led the Pac-12 with 1,337 yards and 13 TDs last year at Oregon State.

While he doesn't know when he'll be cleared for a return, Hill is doing everything possible to prepare himself, both physically and mentally, for that day.

After showing signs of promise last year as both a running back and kickoff returner, Hill is hungrier than ever to prove he belongs.

"This was my first big injury, so it was a new adjustment for me," Hill said. "But now I'm feeling like myself again. I'm very confident I can cut. I've been jogging and am able to do everything. It's all about getting my confidence back."