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Rookie RB Brian Hill to get a long look at returner

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The rookie back isn’t known for his speed, but Keith Armstrong is interested anyways.

Wyoming v UNLV Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Brian Hill figures to have a very good shot at making this roster as the team’s third running back, though that’s contingent on his special teams value to some extent. Given the likely importance of special teams work, the fact that Hill is in play as a returner should make you sit up and take notice.

Here’s the money quote from the piece below, which you should read in full:

Andre Roberts, (Devin) Fuller, you still have (Justin) Hardy, (Taylor) Gabriel and Nick Williams, (Tevin) Coleman and I like the Hill kid, the running back as a kickoff returner,” Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m going to try him as a kickoff returner.”

Hill taking one or both returner spots could impact the roster fortunes of other players, most notably Andre Roberts, Nick Williams and Devin Fuller. Roberts is a seasoned veteran and useful fifth receiver option. Williams has proven himself to be a sporadically useful receiver and special teamer, while Fuller’s injury ruined his chances of proving himself a year ago. He’s speedy and young, though, and shouldn’t be counted out.

Gabriel is in many ways the most logical option because of his home run potential and experience, but he figures to be a major part of the offense, and thus may not get the same shot as the other names on this list. If Justin Hardy were to step up in a major way and Tevin Coleman were to line up more often as a receiver, or the team felt they could have Gabriel pulling double duty without a problem, that might change. I don’t expect it to, however.

So back to Hill. What Hill offers as a returner isn’t blazing speed, but a physical, “violent” running style (his words) and quality ball security, which is part and parcel of what Keith Armstrong has valued in his returners in the past. If he’s shifty enough to keep moving, physical enough to push through contact, and good enough to hold on to the dang ball, he’ll probably be an Armstrong favorite throughout the summer.

Let’s go ahead and apply the usual caveats that these are OTAs and not necessarily indicative of the team’s future plans—UDFA Cam Keizur was the starting right guard today, as we’ll discuss more tomorrow—but I think Hill’s legitimately in play here. If he winds up being the team’s long-term backup running back and kick returner, he’ll be hugely valuable for this Falcons team.