Since the training room is already backed up with their two best defenders, it's easy to forget that linebacker Emmanuel Lamur is ready to spring off injured reserve and give the Bengals a 700-snap player with some Cam Chancellorish traits of versatility.
And with left tackle Anthony Collins and guard Mike Pollak looking at free agency along an uncertain offensive line, it's easy to forget that left guard Clint Boling with his 31 NFL starts is quietly vowing to be back in time for the start of training camp to provide even more flexibility in the roster game.
Boling, who underwent reconstructive ACL surgery the last day of 2013, counts out seven months between the operation and the start of camp and says it's enough time for him to beat the whistle. Everything else can wait as the club mulls re-signing Collins and moving Andrew Whitworth to left guard.
"I absolutely think I can be back," Boling says. "Depending on who you are, the rehab is different for everybody. I absolutely think seven months is realistic and the goal is to be ready day one.
"The team has to prepare like I'm not going to be ready because they don't know. AC is a free agent and that's a big question. Whit moved around a little bit last year (to left guard from left tackle when Boling got hurt Dec. 1). There's a lot of questions that we don't know the answers to right now, but all I can do is focus on my rehab."
What is known is that the 6-4, 244-pound Lamur is going to be cleared in time for the April 21 start of offseason workouts, nearly eight months after he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the preseason finale of his second season.
In that rookie year he came off the practice squad to play the last nine games of 2012, Lamur, then just 230 pounds, showed he's headed in the same direction as the NFL. He's a sleek hybrid that can run all day and cause problems in pass coverage with his length as well as put some heat on the passer while being a bit of a factor in the run game.
Lamur is far from a two-time Pro Bowl safety like Seattle's Chancellor, but the former Kansas State safety was versatile enough as an undrafted rookie to play both outside linebacker spots at SAM and WILL while also blitzing at times as a safety in certain looks. Throw in eight special teams tackles in those nine games and Lamur has also shown he can hit people.
They call Lamur "E-Man," and the E stands for "Everywhere."
"I want to prove I can play this game each and every down and also be a special-teamer at the same time," Lamur says. "I want to be different. I want to break that trend that says you can't play special teams and play every down."
He's already bucked one trend. All Lamur got out of the '12 draft was a plane ticket. That's the one the Bengals sent him so he could try out at the rookie minicamp. When the weekend ended the team signed Lamur and eight months later he made his first NFL start in a playoff game when he lined up at SAM backer.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther says Lamur is ready to be a three-down backer and that day could be in 2015 with SAM James Harrison turning 36 in May as he heads into the last year of his deal. For the moment, Guenther is going to team Lamur with Pro Bowl WILL backer Vontaze Burfict on passing downs, where he'll get plenty of work.
(Linebacker isn't a position of need in the draft even with Harrison's age and it's why Missouri's Michael Sam is an unlikely choice for the Bengals. They've already got a fourth-round linebacker from last year, Sean Porter, coming off a shoulder injury that cut short his rookie year in training camp, as well as versatile backup Vinny Rey, a special teams ace expected to get a restricted free agent tender after a career year from scrimmage. Backup SAM and WILL Jayson DiManche returns with 12 special teams tackles as a rookie.)
"He's got good ball awareness in zone and he's a good man-to-man guy," Guenther says of Lamur. "He's a guy you like to go to with everyone playing two tight ends. He's tall and he can run with those guys and you don't get caught in a mismatch. He can help you in a lot of different ways. He's smart. He knows the defense and the techniques."
Lamur is used to listening to Guenther as his old linebackers coach. Boling is also familiar with new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson after his one season as the running backs coach. Like any offensive lineman, Jackson's vow to hang his offense's hat on a physical running game is music to Boling's ears.
"You always want to be physical and play hard and that's kind of Hue's mentality," Boling says. "And Hue was the one talking during practice getting guys going and hyped up and he's got a lot energy. That moves down the line to players and coaches. Hopefully that carries over into games next year with a big, nasty offensive line. That's always the goal."
The 6-7, 325-pound Whitworth clearly gave the Bengals added punch and girth inside on the run when he went to left guard after Boling got hurt. But Boling isn't exactly a wallflower in the running game either. When he started in his first NFL game in the 2011 opener, he helped running back Cedric Benson to a 100-yard day and in 2012 when Boling started every game, BenJarvus Green-Ellis became just the second Bengals back to have four 100-yard games in a stretch of five games.
"It's not like I like to shy away from it," Boling says. "Whit came in and played well, but it's not like I don't like to hit people and be physical, either.
"Obviously, all of us like to hit people in the mouth. (Jackson) was pretty involved in the run game in practice during install and things like that and I think he'll be the same way. He's going to try and get this run game going."