Margus Hunt didn’t grow up with the NFL Draft in Estonia and he admits it was so overwhelming that he can’t remember last year’s experience beyond his conversation with head coach Marvin Lewis informing him that the Bengals had taken him with the 53rd pick.
“I don’t remember what he said,” Hunt recalled Monday between a break in workouts at Paul Brown Stadium as he tried to rank the draft in his list of life accomplishments. “I barely knew about the draft until I got here. I didn’t know the process.
“It’s one of those things I can’t really comprehend because I wasn’t growing up here or growing up in this culture,” he said. “It’s hard for me to really grasp the meaning and significance of all of this. But it’s definitely high up there to be in this kind of group of elite people and have this kind of opportunity.”
When he enrolled at Southern Methodist and began playing football instead of track, he had merely a passing interest and didn’t watch it intently until his own draft. The first one he remembers is Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford going No. 1 in 2009, but he didn’t have to do a lot of research to learn about what has become one of America’s seminal sporting events.
“It’s pretty straightforward,” Hunt said. “I just saw the pay numbers and thought, ‘Oh my God.’ There’s nothing complicated.”
The draft sums up his NFL career, where he’s learned on the run. If it wasn’t the draft, it was the Bengals’ 4-3 defense that was also entirely knew to him.
Which is one of the reasons why the Bengals are probably going to keep Hunt at left end and let
“He had some good snaps and did things the right way, he just needs more experience,’ said defensive line coach Jay Hayes of Hunt’s rookie year. “More fast reps doing it at pro football speed. I think he needs to master left end before putting him at right.”
There were times last year, only Hunt’s fifth season of football, when he would come back to the sidelines in games and practice and look at Hayes quizzically as if to say, ‘What was that?”
“It was the first time he’d ever seen it,” Hayes said. “If I’ve shown it to him and they do it to him, he usually does pretty well. But if it’s things he hasn’t seen, it’s like any of us. Your natural ability can only take you so far. Sometimes it translates, sometimes it doesn’t.”
But the Bengals saw enough ability in his 10 games and 165 snaps to realize their second-round pick wasn’t ill-conceived. They not only felt he was their highest-graded player on their draft board when they took him. The fact they might need an end if Johnson left via free agency was a bonus.
At 6-8, Hunt can run along with all the other physical tools and though he turns 27 before the season, Hayes believes getting him settled at one position is going to boost his development.
“He has a lot of things a lot of people don’t have,’ Hayes said. “He can run, he’s strong, he wants to do well and that helps him.”
While Hunt develops at left end _ and Hayes remembers how second-year defensive tackle
“I think Carlos has a good chance to that. He’s done it before,” Hayes said. “We like the matchup we get with him at left end because he’s usually way more athletic than right tackle. It’s a mismatch. But it should be the same thing at right. Carlos is a good enough athlete wherever he goes he should be able to do that.
“All three of these guys have been productive players for us. I foresee them playing across both positions,” Hayes said. “Margus needs to continue to develop, putting him at one spot and letting him get his feet wet and master left end.”
Hunt has displayed all the reasons the Bengals drafted him. He’s a throwback. Note when asked about the impending position battles he offered, “We’ll see how it works out. Wallace had an unbelievable year last year. He was playing his heart out. It will be fun. They’re my teammates and we’re a family, so whatever happens, happens. The main thing is we want to win, and we want to win badly.”
Here’s a guy at age 18 that won Estonia’s first two gold medals in the World Junior Track and Field Championships in the discus and shot put and he’s still grinding away in the gym. He even got into the boxing ring for the first time this offseason back in Houston to work on his conditioning. His longest “bout,” (the only thing he was fighting was the clock), went 12 rounds.
“Actually it made me realize that I was in pretty good shape,” Hunt said. “But it was still challenging, not just stamina-wise but you have to use your hands and everything. It was a really good workout for the upper body as well…It was more for the actual endurance. It wasn’t meant to be a hand workout or anything for football.”
Already nicknamed “Drago,” by his teammates for the fictional heavyweight Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, this won’t help. Hunt says he never saw the movie, made two years before he was born, but he has watched some clips.
“I know what they’re talking about. I’ve seen bits and pieces of that. I remember the scene where they both work out and (Drago) is in this high-tech lab and Sylvester Stallone is running up a snowy mountain dragging logs,” Hunt said. “I’ve seen the very last Rocky. That’s the one Rocky I’ve seen.
As is evident, Hunt’s got a nice sense of humor. When he was told, “I don’t think you were built in a lab,” he joked, “Well, the jury’s out.”
But all kidding aside, he knows what he has to do to become a regular contributor.
“I just need to learn the defense a lot better. Last year was just this is this and this is this. I had to learn during the season as well,” he said. “I felt like I got caught up pretty fast. I had a couple good games. The Patriots game when Michael was out. I didn’t get a lot of playing time over there, but as the season went on I started getting more and more…. What really helped me last year was I was doing the scout team stuff and some other stuff that was similar to what we were doing. Therefore I got more and more reps as the season went on. That really helped me out.”
Hunt wants to focus on his leverage because he knows that’s the only way he can take advantage of one his strengths: his strength.
“(Strength) can still be a weakness if you don’t know how to use it. You can be as a strong as you want, but there’s a balance in football where it all needs to sit,” he said.
But, like the draft, he’s learning.
“A lot of time the playbook really got me on track. Now I don’t feel it’s a lot to put on me,” he said. “I’ve had a year behind me.”