Don't tell Emmanuel Lamur that the first day of OTAs was no big deal.
When the Bengals took the field on Tuesday, it marked the first time in nearly nine months that the third year linebacker had participated in 11-on-11 football drills after dislocating his shoulder in the final preseason game last year.
"Oh man, it feels really good to be back," said Lamur. "It's a blessing to be back with the guys. The injury opened my eyes in a way. I'm enjoying every rep and having fun. Last year the game was taken away from me just like that."
"One of the things that I told the guys in the meetings is to enjoy the process," said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. "Whether it's phase one of OTAs, lifting weights, meetings, or being out of the field. With the guys that got injured last year, I said, 'It's not a lot of fun when you're hurt and sitting out, so enjoy the time that you have out here.' You never know when it's going to end and that's how E-man plays."
"This is a chance for him to come back and get his feet wet and get back into the groove of things," said Rey Maualuga. "He looks great. He's a great coverage player and a great all-around athlete."
Lamur had another reason to be fired-up on Tuesday: He practiced with the first unit on defense. Following the offseason release of James Harrison, Lamur is the front-runner to start at SAM linebacker.
"He was the starter there really at the end of his rookie year (2012)," said Guenther. "He played a lot in his last five or six games and obviously he started the playoff game (at Houston). Right now he's running with the 'ones' and if he continues to improve, I don't see much of a change there."
"I'm running with the first group right now but the way I approach it is to work hard on each and every rep like I'm still trying to earn a spot," said Lamur. "I'm staying motivated and hungry because that's what pushes me."
Lamur was a 210-pound safety as a sophomore at Kansas State before shifting to linebacker for his final two college seasons. Although he added some weight after changing positions, Emmanuel was still slightly undersized to be an NFL linebacker when the Bengals signed him as an undrafted free agent.
"He was pretty raw, but from the first day when we were out here in the rookie camp, I was like, 'Man, I really like him.'" said Guenther. "Nobody believed me because he was an undrafted rookie and nobody knew anything about him. As time went on at practice, everybody started coming around on the guy and I said, 'I told you.' Once he figured out what to do, you could see the athletic ability really take over."
Lamur was able to put on 12 pounds of muscle prior to last season and now he's a chiseled 245 pounds.
"There are big boys in this league so I had to get bigger and stronger," said Lamur.
"I thought he was ready for a break-out year last year but unfortunately, he got hurt in the preseason," said Guenther. "He looks bigger, faster, and stronger now."
While the Bengals did not sign any big-name free agents in the off-season, they're hoping to get a major boost from the return of injured players like Geno Atkins, Leon Hall, and Lamur.
"He's going into his third year and he's smart," said Maualuga. "He talks a lot out there and is always asking questions. He loves to compete and I'm pretty sure that he's going to try to get to the ball quicker than Vontaze and me. I expect a big year from E-man. He's going to surprise a lot of people and do some great things."
"I've always been a big fan of E-man," said Andrew Whitworth. "He's a great guy with great character and has worked his tail off to be where he is. He's one of those guys where you're anxious to see him have success because he deserves it."
"Being out for the season last year was very humbling," Lamur told me. "I'm glad to be back at work and I'm improving every day."
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