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Back to basics

Posted May 10, 2012


Marvin Lewis

Updated: 4:20 p.m.

This weekend's Bengals rookie minicamp is going to be as basic as the simplest of fundamentals the coaches are going to push the 40 or so campers through five practices in a span of 48 hours at Paul Brown Stadium.

From the post-practice snack to the handling of their most celebrated participant in undrafted Arizona State middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

"This is their first introduction to us -- offense, defense, special teams and how to practice," said head coach Marvin Lewis, looking forward to his first field action of his 10th season.

"First of all the nuance, verbiage and techniques. How to prepare and study. How to watch tape and highlight and then how to practice like an NFL player, how to stay up on your feet, bend your knees and play behind your pads. The weight room, new diet and nutrition. All the things to get them in tune to how we do things."   

There is also activity upstairs with the rookies in town. The club announced the signings of two of its draft picks, a pair of fifth-rounders in Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater and Boise State safety George Iloka.

The 6-3, 250-pound Burfict is one of the club's 15 college free agents that are going to be joined by the 10 draft picks headed by first-round picks cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and right guard Kevin Zeitler.

Also in camp is a group of tryout players featuring former University of Cincinnati and Carolina quarterback Tony Pike. Rounding out the roster are first-year players in Armon Binns and Vidal Hazelton, a pair of wide receivers, as well as defensive end DeQuin Evans, middle linebacker Micah Johnson, right tackle Matt O'Donnell, kicker Thomas Weber, and fullback James Develin.  

All eyes are on Burfict after a poor junior season and NFL Scouting Combine was compounded by his admission he had smoked marijuana but had stopped. His 16 personal foul penalties also raised a host of red flags as well as yellow ones, but after meeting with him following his campus workout back in March, Lewis is willing to take a shot.

Lewis is even more encouraged after spending two hours with Burfict last week when he was in Arizona for his daughter's wedding.

"He took the opportunity to find my phone number because I don't know that I gave it to him," Lewis said after he attended the campus workout. "To call me, to write me a letter, to do some other things (impressed me). He got my phone number and called me and said, 'I hope I get an opportunity.' I said, 'I hope you do, too.' Whatever reason, I struck a chord with him and maybe that's what he needs. He's got a lot of story. I don't have to believe any of it. It doesn't matter one way or another to me now. What he does now from this point forward is going to determine whether or not he can be an NFL player."

But Lewis made it clear Burfict has a long way to go to have a chance at making this roster. He and his coaches aren't enamored with Burfict's lack of fundamentals and they're going to start by trying to turn him into a "knee bender" instead of his present state as a "waist bender."

"He can be a good football player," Lewis said. "Learn to bend his knees, play behind his pads, strike people within the whistles and life is good. There is no downside to it. I'm excited."

The camp is also as basic when it comes to finding players in the tryouts. The team's emphasis on speed won't be more glaring when the Bengals trot out three undrafted guys that have been clocked at one time or another under 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash: Connecticut wide receiver Kashif Moore, New Mexico State wide receiver Taveon Rogers, and Western Kentucky cornerback Derrius Brooks. Plus, fifth-rounder Marvin Jones, a wide receiver from California, clocked a 4.46 at the combine.

"That's what I'm always talking to the guys about. Let's go get guys with speed. Let's go get guys with athleticism that we can hopefully coach and can develop," Lewis said. "Whether they're the 50th guy on the roster or on the practice squad, that gives us a chance to continue to get better with guys that develop physically or mentally or whatever it may be. But it's hard to be very successful in the NFL or very long if you can't run.

Lewis goes back to 2006 when one of the players that was plucked out of a rookie camp tryout, Kentucky wide receiver Glenn Holt, ended up becoming the team's No. 2 all-time kick returner during the next three seasons.

"When I looked down at the end of the day and saw the guys that were undrafted, I wanted the guy with the fastest time," Lewis said. "Maybe he didn’t produce as much at the University of Kentucky, but he was helpful around here for a few seasons because he could run and he wasn't scared. He'd go in there and block when he had to, and he could return kicks. Had he not fumbled a kick he might have stayed a little longer."

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