Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis isn't prone to doling out praise from the lectern, but after Friday's first two practices of rookie minicamp he was downright effusive, particularly about the first two draft picks, Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert and North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard.
"I think to a man they impressed me. I wasn't disappointed, really, where anybody was in relationship to what we expected through the draft," Lewis said. "I think it's evident that both Tyler and Giovani will be able to really help us offensively and have an opportunity to carve out roles and niches early on in their rookie seasons. The game's not going to be too big for either one of them and that was really evident in the first two practices today."
But Lewis didn't stop there and varied his compliments to a sixth-rounder in Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead to free-agent linebacker Jayson DiManche of Southern Illinois and points in between.
"Just the quickness in line, the ability to stick his foot in the ground and go from Point A to Point B," he said of what he liked from Burkhead. "Just the things you saw from him on tape. His abilities as a receiver. I think he'll be a guy also who will really uplift us on special teams and compete to be one of our core guys."
DiManche, the highest-paid Bengals CFA according to reports with a $15,000 bonus, did run afoul of Lewis once Friday when he pushed down Eifert as he lunged back for an underthrown ball on the sidelines. Lewis had to reiterate to play under control and that there is a certain way to practice in the world of the NFL.
"I think we'll be better at it tomorrow and continue through so that a week from now when they get in with the rest of the guys they'll have a better understanding of how to do it," Lewis said. "You just always worry. We had to teach (Rey) Maualuga how to practice because he was used to being the big man on campus there at S.C. and knocking the snot out of everybody all the time. He had to learn that, how to practice. You may injure yourself or get somebody else injured, and they're just as valuable as you are. So I think young guys have to go through that progression and learn how to practice that way. It's better to be telling them to slow down than speed up. I know that."
But there were a lot of things to like about DiManche.
"He's such a good athlete. He's got the long legs, long arms," Lewis said. "But he's so underdeveloped physically. That's what you're looking for: a guy with the physical upside. Playing where he played there, at Southern Illinois, he's on the come."
The three-day camp also got off to a good start off the field, where the seventh-rounders, Ohio State tackle Reid Fragel and South Carolina center T.J. Johnson, signed contracts. With the NFL going into its third year of the rookie salary scale, it's believed the Bengals could sign as many as four more drafts picks by the time camp ends Sunday morning.