Tall order

Posted Jun 4, 2013

In a week the NFL mourned the loss of Deacon Jones, one of the game's first monstrously athletic pass rushers that offered a window to the next era, the Bengals are watching their crew of 21st-century sleek defensive ends help rookie Margus Hunt adjust to the league in the voluntary field practices (OTAs).

Margus Hunt

In a week the NFL mourned the loss of Deacon Jones, one of the game's first monstrously athletic pass rushers that offered a window to the next era, the Bengals are watching their crew of 21st-century sleek defensive ends help rookie Margus Hunt adjust to the league in the voluntary field practices (OTAs).

At 6-8, 277 pounds, Hunt is still the tall guy. But not by much. He's never played with guys like 6-7, 275-pound Michael Johnson and 6-6, 280-pound Carlos Dunlap.

"A couple of years ago we had a 6-6 guy, but our tallest guy last year was maybe 6-4," Hunt says of SMU. "It's fun. This is where the game is going. People are getting bigger; so is the game."

Dunlap and Johnson haven’t hesitated in taking Hunt under their Jurassic wingspans. It seemed a natural for Dunlap even though he's looking to get a foothold on a starting spot in his fourth season.

"I understand what he's going through. Tall defensive end just out of college and everything is different," Dunlap says. "It's probably easier for him now because they're used to having tall-framed defensive ends. The taller you are, the coach might want the job done this way, but for you, you might have to do it a little bit differently to get what he wants done."

Hunt, an Estonia native who dominated international throwing circles in the track world until he was lured to the SMU football field, has been playing football as long as Johnson has been in the NFL.

"He seems (solid) to me. And he speaks and understands really well and it's got to be hard for him with all these different accents," says Johnson, starting with the Pittsburgh-ese of defensive line coach Jay Hayes.

"He's got me from Alabama. Carlos and Rob (Geathers) from South Carolina. (Devon) Still from Delaware, Brandon Thompson from South Georgia. Geno (Atkins) from Florida."

Hayes agrees that watching Johnson and Dunlap gain leverage should help Hunt translate. But other than Dunlap taken with the 54th pick out of Florida and Hunt going 53 three years later, Hayes puts a stop to the comparisons since Hunt is going into just his fifth year of football.

"They're tall," Hayes says. "That's about it. And Carlos and Margus can run and are long. But they're different players. Michael and Carlos are much more experienced. Margus is a neophyte compared to them in football. I think Margus is maybe more of a straight-line (rusher). I'm not sure yet. You just don't know until they get the pads on."

Even without the pads Hunt has made his physical prowess known.

"Shh … impressive. Very, very impressive. I'm glad we’ve got him," Johnson says. "Look at him. He's got all the tools. Big. Fast. Strong. And we've got a good group of guys to come in and learn with and grow with because we're still learning and growing. He can jump in and get on this train and he can watch all of us."

There are things that no one is going to be able to show Hunt or teach him. Certainly not until the pads appear July 25 in training camp.

That's when "he has to keep working on the aggressiveness of football. It's a violent game. We were talking about that," Hayes says. "I'm sure he's a tough guy. He's just got to be able to feel it a little more. Playing on an NFL defensive line, it's a very violent place. And he's not the only guy in that situation. Still and Thompson have to fill the shoes of a nasty, tough guy in (tackle) Pat Sims.

"But for a guy going into his fifth year of football? He's pretty dang good."

The bright and outgoing Hunt says Dunlap and Johnson and the rest of the linemen have been generous with their time. Hayes says he walked into the meeting room this week and end Wallace Gilberry (another Alabama accent) was going over a special teams alignment with Hunt. In the meeting room, Hunt usually sits next to Johnson and gets a hand in the notebook while Dunlap has aided him during the position work.

"Carlos has been really helpful. When we do pass-rush drills, he's always giving me a slight edge talking about stuff. When we're on the side doing some drills, he's also talking about what to focus on and how to play with my hands," Hunt says. "It's good to see him play and what he does (to keep leverage). We're both tall guys."

Dunlap likes to joke about the 6-foot Atkins's height, but it proves his point that "height is not a determining factor in football. Look at Geno. He's 5-6." But he thinks it is going to help Hunt that he can work against him and Johnson in individual periods rather than shorter players.

"Maybe shortening your first step and not taking a long step, like he did a little bit when he first got here. The coaches got on him and now he's starting to shorten his step and play the run better," Dunlap says. "That was one of my issues as well. I give Margus a little bit of what I see. Because sometimes it's better to have a set of eyes not yours."

Dunlap thinks he and Hunt are different types of rushers even though they're both lean and can run. Certainly Dunlap has had time to develop more moves. And he sees Hunt joining Geathers and Gilberry as swinging inside and out on passing downs.  

"He has his own repertoire of moves," Dunlap said. "I've watched him and tried to help perfect what he does well already. Not coaching. Just some small tips. He's pretty solid with his hands; we're just trying to get him to place them better. I think he's had a pretty solid camp."

Hunt on Dunlap's best tips: "Overall, how to work on hands, how to work the blocks with the run steps."

Dunlap smiles at how closely they were drafted together. What has not been lost in translation is that five good defensive ends are better than four.

"Every year they try to get better; drafting the next guy," Dunlap says. "He's one of my teammates, so why not get better together?"

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