As the Bengals rookies walked off the field after their final practice of minicamp Sunday morning, defensive end Margus Hunt caught defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's eye and concealed his smile as easily as his 6-8 frame.
"Inside hand," Hunt said.
Zimmer smiled and offered, "Right. Stab him in the chest."
The linemen get short shrift in these sorts of things because everyone is in shorts and not pads. So if this were hockey, the three stars would have been Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert (another leaping catch in double coverage Sunday morning), North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard (still some burst in his fifth practice in 48 hours) and Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton (catching on with a nice brew of size and hands despite fighting illness).
Although defense is tougher to gauge, SMU's Hunt made as much of an impression as Eifert did with just his sheer presence. As one Bengals staffer observed, "When he gets down in a stance, you see muscles you didn't think there were."
Georgia safety Shawn Williams and linebackers Sean Porter and Jayson DiManche also could have been in the hunt for the Three Stars. Zimmer is particularly impressed with Porter playing at 237 pounds after he weighed in at the NFL Scouting Combine three months ago at 230.
But Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, his staff, and the personnel department were not giving the linemen the short end of the stick. That would be hard to do with 6-8 tackle Reid Fragel looking Hunt in the eye while the 6-5 Tanner Hawkinson roamed up and down the offensive line at all the spots in one drill or another and the 6-4, 310-pound T.J. Johnson muscled up at center.
Even though their big guys weren't wearing pads, the Bengals were pleased at how strong they played and the different things they were able to do athletically on the offensive line.
But the 277-pound Hunt came as advertised with the 53rd pick as Eifert did at No. 21. Here's a guy that runs a 4.6 40-yard dash, reps 225 pounds 38 times, is an accomplished international thrower, and didn't disappoint. But as fast and as athletic as Hunt is, Zimmer is impressing on him that he has to be physical.
"He's got a lot of physical skills. He's smart. He catches on," Zimmer said. "He can run. I told him yesterday, he kind of has to know who he is. He's not a wiggle guy, he's a power guy. He's strong, physical, he's got good arms. Great strength and great speed, so he has to know what he is. He's not going to juke somebody. He's got to power on them, make them sit down, and then be able to make moves off of it."
Hunt, the Estonia native who has been playing football as long as the Bengals 2009 draft class has been in the league, actually had a leg up on experience this weekend when he went against the two tackles that were drafted after him. Hawkinson, the fifth-rounder out of Kansas, dealt with playing guard and center for the first time. Fragel, a seventh-rounder out of Ohio State, is starting only his second year as a tackle and he worked on the left side for the first time.
But Hunt is also dealing with a transition. If Fragel is a converted tight end, Hunt says he only played one team with a tight end (Tulane) as he adjusted to playing over one this weekend while grappling with technique tips from Zimmer and line coach Jay Hayes.
"It's everything I've been expecting. It's just the fact I need to learn to play this defense," Hunt said. "I've been taught one way for the last four years, it's a matter of getting used to it. Coach Hayes is teaching it one way and I've been taught the other way; my feet are kind of all over the place."
Hunt says he's adjusting to stepping with his inside foot first instead of with the outside foot. But the coaches are finding out if they use the right term, he'll pick it up quickly, as Zimmer discovered coaching him on using his hands.
(He says if Hunt works on understanding leverage better, along with use of his hands, he'll conquer two of the things he needs to improve.)
"I told him to get his inside hand up on the pass rush. I said all great pass rushers have the inside hand up," Zimmer said. "So he brought it up and he didn't do anything with it."
Zimmer then told him to put his hand "right there" on the tackle's numbers and "stab him in the chest" to get him off balance and Hunt kidded him about it.
"And he's starting to have a lot more success," Zimmer said. "He said to me, 'English isn't my first language. Why didn't you just say, 'Stab him in the chest?' "
Actually, Hunt is quite fluent in both English and football and the Bengals are excited that while they don't have to rush him into the lineup with four accomplished veteran ends ahead of him, they think he can help right now because of his intelligence and natural skills.
"You have to learn how to practice. In college, it's pretty much with shoulder pads all the time, not with just helmets," Hunt said. "Here you have to learn how to protect yourself and other people.
"It's been fun. I just have to learn how to use my hands and keep my feet active. Jay has been doing a really good job of explaining it."
The other line coach, the O-line's Paul Alexander, has been focused on his guys. But how could he not help notice Hunt vs. Fragel?
"It's like the Empire State Building vs. the Sears Tower," Alexander said. "They've got guys that tall playing (end in the NFL). Too Tall Jones wasn't too tall. He's impressive. (Hunt) looks like a big, angry man."
Now he just has to be mad enough to use the inside hand.