EAGAN, Minn. — Rashod Hill got a head start on his film prep for Week 1, as the tackle said Monday that he began watching the Bengals last week.
And as he prepares to start in a season opener for just the second time in his career, Hill also reflected about his own journey the past few days.
"Yeah, I was actually thinking about that yesterday. I was talking to my wife," Hill said of his winding road. "I still think about that sometimes … my journey from coming out, being undrafted, practice squad, getting here.
"It's special that I have an opportunity to be a starter again right now, which is a blessing," Hill added. "I ain't taking it for granted. But I do still think about it sometimes."
Hill arrived in Minnesota in November 2016 after joining the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent earlier that year. The Jacksonville native spent time on the practice squad for his hometown team but was bumped up to the 53-man roster upon landing with the Vikings.
He was a key contributor in 2017, starting seven total games, all but one at right tackle. He started eight games in 2018, holding the right tackle spot for five games until Brian O'Neill was ready, and then switching to the left side for three games when Riley Reiff was injured.
Hill has mostly been Minnesota's swing tackle the past two season, starting the season finales in 2019 (right tackle) and 2020 (left tackle).
Add it all up, and Hill has made 12 starts at right tackle and five at left tackle. And there's reason the Vikings have kept him on the roster for almost five years now.
"I think he's got a better understanding. You know, Rashod has always been a pretty good pass blocker," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "Typically he's a pretty good pass protector. I think where he's improved is in the run game. You know, trying to get guys cut off on the back side and guys reaching on the front side."
Sunday will mark his first Week 1 start since 2018, and it will be his first season opener as a left tackle.
The 29-year-old said he views himself as a different player now than he was in recent seasons.
"I'm a lot more focused. A lot of times, you know man, you get a starting job and you think no one is going to take it from you," Hill said. "But it's [gone] just like that. I feel a lot more focused on the details from 2018 to now. It's a lot more maturity on myself."
Much like 2018, Hill could be in a similar spot where he begins the season as a starter, only to have a high draft pick replace him at some point during the season.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Bengals.
That was O'Neill a few years ago, and it could be first-round left tackle Christian Darrisaw in the coming months.
Zimmer on Monday provided an update on Darrisaw, who didn't fully participate in a practice during training camp and underwent a small procedure a few weeks ago.
"I know that Wednesday he's going to try to work into some individual stuff," Zimmer said. "We will just have to see how he progresses.
"That's a good question as far as where he's at," Zimmer said later. "I think he's practiced four times since he's been here. It's an unknown.
"I need to see him practice first. That would be the first step, practice, and then as we move forward, I mean, I don't know, he's not in terrific football shape because he hasn't practiced. So we've got to see that, too," Zimmer later added. "You've got to see if he's making mistakes and if he's doing the things correctly. So much of the offensive line is so much about footwork and working together and getting off the ball at the same time and combination blocks. So there's a lot of things we have not seen him do."
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Sept. 13, 2021.
Hill said Monday he's happy to help the 22-year-old Darrisaw get adjusted to life in the NFL, but that his focus is primarily on the Bengals.
"Man, anything Christian needs me to do to help him, I'm always there," Hill said. "Right now though, I'm worried about the game, to be honest with you. Me and Christian, if he needs any help, then he'll ask me. If he has a problem, he'll ask me. But right now I'm focused on the game."
Hill will certainly be tested in Week 1, as the Bengals made a splashy move this offseason by signing pass rusher Trey Hendrickson to a multiyear contract extension. Hendrickson notched 13.5 sacks while with the Saints in 2020, which tied for the second-most in the league.
Expect Hill to be up for the challenge, as he's been overcoming obstacles his whole career.
"They're pretty big up front," Hill said of the Bengals. "Guys like Trey Hendrickson came from the Saints — I remember playing him a couple times over there with the Saints.
"I actually started watching film Thursday on the Bengals, so I'm pretty excited about that, man," Hill added. "Ready to get this game going."