Cincinnati offensive line coach Paul Alexander compares fifth-round draft pick Tanner Hawkinson, a guard-center from Kansas, to former Bengals and Browns standout Eric Steinbach, a nine-year NFL player.
"He has exceptionally quick feet, like Steinbach really," Alexander said of Hawkinson. "He has Steinbach's feet, which was really impressive. He's not Steinbach, but he's an impressive kid, he really is."
So why was the 6-5, 304 pound offensive lineman from Kansas still available when the Bengals selected him with the 23rd pick in the fifth round (156th overall)?
"Why was he still there?" asked Alexander. "He needs to get stronger."
"That's one of the areas I need to improve upon, and it's something that I've been hitting hard," said Hawkinson. "I'm going to have to continue to work at it. It's something I need to improve on."
"The big negative was he did 13 (reps) on the bench at his Pro Day," said Alexander. "Thirteen on the bench? Come on. But the issue was he jammed his wrist a couple weeks before doing some pass pro drills and only had two weeks to prepare for it. We got a confirmation from his strength coach that he's done 19, which isn't great, but it's better than 13. So he's got to get stronger; that's his issue. It's easier to get a little stronger than it is to get quicker feet; I know that."
Hawkinson was a tight end in high school and the Bengals plan to train him at every spot on the offensive line. He was a four-year starter at tackle at Kansas.
"I spent three years at left tackle and one year at right tackle," said Hawkinson. "Throughout this whole process leading up to the draft, I was able to work with a really good former offensive line coach, Hudson Houck, and he had us working a lot at all positions—guard, snapping the ball—just to make sure we knew how vital it was to know all the positions. I haven't had any in-game experience at guard or center, but I'm confident I can pick those up quickly."
"He's a very versatile guy," said Alexander. "He's going to play all the spots and make everyone's seat a little uncomfortable.
"He's a smart guy; economics major, already graduated, very athletic, tremendously athletic. He's quick, can sustain, rare that way. He reminds me in some ways, not as good, but similar in style to how Steinbach was. I'm very happy to get the kid."
"Obviously I'm really excited," said Hawkinson. "I'm blessed to have this opportunity. Obviously I would've been happy wherever I went, but obviously Cincinnati was the team that picked me up. I'm really excited to get there. I know they have a great organization there and they've had some really good years the last couple years. I'm just really excited to get up there and get started."
After taking Hawkinson, projected as a potential backup for all five spots, the Bengals went for more backups on offense in the sixth round with Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton.
The 5-10, 214-pound Burkhead sounds like a bigger Brian Leonard, a jack of all trades that lined up anywhere. An MCL sprain limited him to eight starts last season after he rushed for 1,357 yards and caught 21 balls. Burkead may be best known for getting Jack Hoffman, a seven-year-old battling brain cancer, involved in the Nebraska program.
Burkhead is Hoffman's favorite player and when the two met they struck up a friendship. During the 2011 season, Burkhead took Jack to lunch, gave him a tour of Memorial Stadium, and challenged him to a race on the football field. According to media reports, while in the Huskers locker room, Jack gave Burkhead a red wristband that said, "Team Jack Pray." Burkhead hasn't taken it off since and wore it during February's NFL Scouting Combine.
The 6-1, 212-pound Hamilton is going to have a tough road trying to hang on as a No. 3 possession-type receiver since he's not a burner and has only a 29.5-inch vertical leap. But he's an interesting guy coming off the best receiving season in Arkansas history with 90 catches, 1,335 yards and five touchdowns.
"We though highly of Cobi coming off of the combine and watching game film," said receivers coach James Urban. "We were happy to get him where he is. He's a fine player. He'll come in and compete. He'll fit into our room, work hard, play hard, do everything that he can to make plays, and help us win football games."
"I just can't wait to get into the meeting room with A.J. Green and the rest of those guys and see how they work," said Hamilton.
As a junior at Arkansas in 2011, Hamilton was part of a deep receiving corps that included two fourth-round selections—Jarius Wright and Joe Mays—in last year's draft. Cobi admits that he was disappointed that he was not chosen until the sixth round.
"I know that the draft is a weird deal," said Hamilton. "I'm just really excited to get to Cincinnati and I have that chip on my shoulder. I'm a sixth-round pick and I'm out to show people that I should have been taken way earlier."
The Bengals finished the draft taking two offensive linemen. Ohio State right tackle Reid Fragel arrived via their first compensatory pick in the seventh round and South Carolina center T.J. Johnson was their 10th and final selection with the second compensatory.
The Bengals think Fragel is an ascending player. He's had just one season at right tackle since converting from tight end, but they were impressed by his speed and strength at last week's workout. His 33 reps in the bench press has been an eye-opener for a guy the club thinks can grow into the position. But if he makes it, it looks like he'll have to win a roster joust with long-time right tackle backup Dennis Roland.
The Bengals have drafted more players out of Ohio State than any other school and added to the list is the 6-7, 308-pound Fragel at almost the last minute.
"I played three years for Coach Tressel and his staff as a traditional tight end," Fragel said. "This past year when Coach (Urban) Meyer and his staff came in, they brought in the spread offense so I knew that I wasn't a spread tight end. I knew that I wanted to help our team at the tackle position, which was in need of some guys. So right from the start, I told Coach Meyer that I wanted to move to tackle. He got me up to about 305-310 (pounds) and we had a pretty good year."
Fragel thought there was a good chance that he would be drafted by the Bengals after offensive line coach Paul Alexander put him through a private workout on Monday.
"I really did after Coach Alexander left on Monday," said Fragel. "I had a feeling in my gut that Cincinnati was going to be the spot. I thought it might have been a little bit earlier, but I'm happy to be a Bengal and I'm very excited."
Alexander went back to Columbus at the direction of head coach Marvin Lewis after Lewis watched tape of him and said, "Wow."
"He had a great workout. He really learned quickly," Alexander said. "He's a very well-respected guy up there. He has long arms, he's tall, he benched 33 times, which is really strong. People were afraid of his experience (at tackle), but he's really quick and athletic and has a great future."
Lewis offered, "He is really an athletic player who made the transition through a couple of positions offensively and just kept growing. It was really impressive what he did strength-wise at the combine. He's got great hips—he can roll his hips—just an impressive young prospect who is still on the come."
"Reid is a dynamic developmental athlete that will prosper in the NFL," said Ohio State assistant coach Kerry Coombs. "Great pick. He's a steal."
Then the final pick was yet another interior player in South Carolina's Johnson. The 6-4, 310-pound Johnson started his career as a freshman at right guard with 13 starts before finishing his career with 40 starts at center.