Crossing the goal line was a short run in the midst of a long journey back for Jeremy Hill. Nine steps from where the New England Patriot running back took the handoff from Brian Hoyer and pushed himself through goal-line traffic into the end zone.

The touchdown, which came in the third quarter of the first Patriots exhibition, doesn’t mean much overall. But for Hill, who is trying to make the team and restart his once-promising career, it was a good start.

Hill finished with 51 yards on 11 carries and two catches for 14 yards. With veteran Rex Burkhead and first-round draft pick Sony Michel sidelined with injuries, Hill made the most of his increased opportunity and took the first steps toward securing a roster spot.

“It felt great. The big thing for me is just getting the rhythm with a new team. It’s good to be out there with this team and build the camaraderie with the offense,” Hill said. “I’m just out there competing, just trying to do my job and continuing to work. Hopefully that will put me in the position I need to be in when the regular season rolls around. … Whenever I get an opportunity I have to try to play well. I can’t worry about who’s up or who’s down. I just have to do my part.”

For three seasons in Cincinnati, Hill was excellent. He averaged 919 yards and 9.7 touchdowns a year during that stretch.

But an ankle injury that required surgery to remove bone spurs sent him to injured reserve after seven games. Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard took advantage of his absence and Hill was expendable.

Second acts are hard to predict for running backs. The line between good and pedestrian is thin. If an injury shaves off a little speed, a little quickness or a little power, that can be the difference between getting through the hole or buried in it, and the difference between making a roster or not.

When they signed him, the Patriots challenged Hill, who played at around 235 pounds as a Bengal, to come in around the mid 220s. They hoped that would be enough to make him a little quicker without compromising his ability to power his way to extra yards.

The recipe cooked up some good results Thursday. Now at 226, Hill arrived in the huddle of a Patriots offense that had mostly sputtered in the first quarter. He zipped through a hole for 11 yards on his first carry and rushed four times for 30 yards in the second quarter. He injected energy into the offense that carried into the second half.

“I feel lighter on my feet. I can get in and out of cuts, and make people miss a little better. That’s something I’ve been working on this entire offseason,” said Hill, who hoped this was just a first step. “I’m trying to just build and build. Hopefully I can continue to get a prominent role in the offense.”