Run of competition

Posted May 13, 2013

That man with a smile is Hue Jackson, a long-time NFL coach working with the Bengals running backs for the first time during his five seasons with the club.

Giovani Bernard

That man with a smile is Hue Jackson, a long-time NFL coach working with the Bengals running backs for the first time during his five seasons with the club.

After watching his two draft picks this past weekend at the rookie minicamp, second-rounder Giovani Bernard and sixth-rounder Rex Burkhead, Jackson is having fun again nine years after he took Bengals wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh under his wing.

"I think we have a chance to be really better," Jackson said of the backfield. "I think we've improved. It's going to be fun. I'm extremely happy."

Like offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Jackson not only likes Bernard's ability to catch it with a make-you-miss zip, but also what he can do between the tackles. Jackson  considers Bernard a tough runner, which is also how he sees veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

"He's physical and tough and so is Benny. And he can catch it and he's improved. Now you bring in the guys that we've drafted in Gio and Rex, and we've got more good options to choose from," Jackson said.

Jackson liked the looks of Burkhead up close.

"I was pleasantly surprised," Jackson said. "Not that I didn't know he had ability, but watching him in person, you get to see a guy in a whole different light. He has extremely quick feet, has really good hands, is very smart, and catches on extremely well. He's just another good player for our room. There's competition all over the backfield and that's what makes it fun and that you know you've got a chance to be pretty good."

THREE'S COMPANY: Offensive line coach Paul Alexander admits when the linemen start coming off the draft board in the fifth round or so, he has a wait-and-see shrug. But after watching the three guys taken late last month in the minicamp, he said they were inspiring.

"All three guys are going to challenge," he said.

Alexander didn't get the 6-5, 298-pound Tanner Hawkinson into right tackle by the end of camp, but he got him into the other four spots on the line and the club thinks he's well on his way to being able to play all the spots. A fifth-round pick, Hawkinson played both tackles at Kansas but Alexander was surprised how well he held up at both guards. The defense can't bull rush in a padless practice and Hawkinson isn’t supposed to be particularly strong. But his quickness and smarts look to be making up for it. Alexander says "he has the frame to be an inside player."

Alexander calls Reid Fragel, the 6-8 Buckeye taken in the seventh round, "a lot of fun" because he's basically a blank slate. Last year on the right side at Ohio State, Fragel played tackle for the first time. Then at this camp, Alexander put him at both tackles.

"He's quick enough to play left," Alexander said. "It's a lot of fun because he's got no habits. We're bringing him up from the ground floor."

South Carolina center T.J. Johnson, the other seventh-round pick, has caught Alexander's attention with just his demeanor.

"He's country strong," Alexander said. "He's got big, heavy hands and he plays with a nasty temperament. I like all three guys."

ROSTER MOVES: With the signing Tuesday of Burkhead and fourth-round linebacker Sean Porter out of Texas A&M, the Bengals have signed half of their 10 draft choices. They also signed one of their tryout players, Stanford defensive tackle Terrence Stephens, and waived rookie free agent defensive tackle Travis Chappelear of Northwest Missouri State.

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