LOS ANGELES – B.J. Hill has moved to a new city but has remained close to his old gang.
The fourth-year defensive tackle was traded just prior to the season by the Giants to the Cincinnati Bengals. While the Giants won just four games, the Bengals captured the AFC North title and won three postseason contests to advance to Super Bowl LVI Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams in SoFi Stadium.
Though he's thrilled by his team's success, Hill misses his friends in New Jersey, notably former linemates Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. The group's members have remained close to each other and those still wearing Giants blue are happy for Hill.
"They hit me up and tell me congratulations all the time," Hill said. "Each week they hit me up. I talk to my guy Dexter every other day. That's my guy. Leo, he hits me up. A.J. (defensive lineman Austin Johnson), (running back) Saquon (Barkley), just different people, (wide receiver) Darius Slayton. They just texted me and said congratulations. (Cornerback) James Bradberry hits me up. They just tell me congratulations, good job, just keep going and bring it home. They're supporting me and I'm thankful for that."
The depth on the defensive line enabled the Giants to send Hill to Cincinnati on Aug. 30 for center Billy Price, who started 15 games.
Hill, who has never missed a game in his career, started two regular-season games and two playoff games. He finished third on the team with 5.5 sacks and totaled 50 tackles (29 solo). Hill made one of the most significant plays of the postseason when he tipped and then intercepted a Patrick Mahomes pass late in the third quarter of the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City. The takeaway led to Joe Burrow's two-yard touchdown pass to Ja'Marr Chase, the final step in erasing an 18-point deficit and tying the game at 21-21. Cincinnati completed its upset 27-24 victory in overtime.
"I replayed it last week for sure, quite a bit, but our DBs stepped up so much in the second half, pretty much the whole the game," Hill said. "They were trying to contain their wide receivers because they had great guys. I was there fortunately to tip the ball up and make the play. If I wouldn't have tipped it, Trey Hendrickson would have picked it off. It's all teamwork. We all work together, and I was just there to make the play."
Hill was the Giants' third-round draft choice out of North Carolina State in 2018. As a rookie, he started 12 games and set a franchise rookie record with 5.5 sacks (a mark that was broken this season by Azeez Ojulari). But his playing time and statistics diminished in each of the next two seasons and in 2020 he was a reserve in every game.
Hill is happy to be a Bengal, but he has no hard feelings for the Giants.
"It was a blessing being at the Giants," Hill said. "It's a blessing to be here in Cincinnati. I've came a long way. I knew God had a plan for me the whole time. I just had to be patient and at first when I figured I was going to get traded, I was down. I didn't want to leave because I knew this place for going on four years. It was just tough at first, but I knew I was going to fit right in just with the guys that were already here. It's just a blessing to be here. When I heard Cincinnati, it was perfect. I knew coach Lou (Anarumo, the defensive coordinator), my guy (linebacker) Germaine Pratt (his teammate at N.C. State) and I fit right in perfectly. They made it easy for the transition and getting to know the playbook and stuff like that. It was great. Great trade. I guess God just had a plan for me somewhere else and it just happened to be here and be on a great team with a great group of guys."
Anarumo was the Giants' defensive backs coach in Hill's productive rookie season. Did he lobby to bring Hill to Cincinnati?
"I don't recall exactly how it went down," Anarumo said. "But I know when it did come across my desk, I was all in. I remember how he played for us the year I was with him as a rookie in New York. He's made some huge plays for us this year and given us some inside pressure from the three technique and shade position. You saw the impactful play he made in Kansas City. B.J.'s a great guy. As I mentioned, I knew what kind of skillset he had, and I was excited to be able to get him when the opportunity presented itself."
The move has certainly worked out from Hill's perspective.
"It was definitely a lot of emotions going on (after the trade)," he said. "I was leaving a group of guys that I knew for a long time. It all worked out and just folded in the right way. I'm so thankful for all this happening."
*Hill isn't the only former Giants defender making important contributions to the Bengals' defense. Cornerback Eli Apple, the Giants top draft choice in 2016, has become a mainstay in the secondary for Cincinnati, his fourth team.
Apple will certainly cover Odell Beckham, Jr. at some point during the Super Bowl, just as he often did in practice in his two-plus seasons with the Giants.
"I hope it helps," Anarumo said. "They did go against each other a lot – training camp, OTA's, one-on-ones, things like that. Odell is a great player. Eli is playing with a ton of confidence right now. Any corner that goes out there better have that. I'm proud of the way he's come in this year and helped us get to where we're at today. We wouldn't be here without him."