BENGALS SAM LB EMMANUEL LAMUR VS. TITANS TE DELANIE WALKER
There is the undrafted like Vontaze Burfict and then there is the unwashed like Lamur.
If Burfict made a mess of that 2012 NFL scouting combine, Lamur wasn't even invited. If they threw Burfict a check for $1,000 to sign him for that 2012 rookie minicamp, they gave Lamur a mere plane ticket and told him to prove himself that weekend before he got a contract. If Burfict was in magazines before the draft, Lamur was in the notes of the Bengals personnel department once their scouts like Robert Livingston caught his athletic, linebacker-safety hybrid act in a college all-star game.
And Lamur has been smiling ever since, as if the prank has kept going and they forgot to send him home. You can see his smile and hear his laugh in the next county, especially now that after last season strapped to injured reserve, no NFL outside linebacker has played more snaps than the E-Man with 154.
"People talk about my speed, my height and my size and everything," Lamur says. "But it's really not that. It's really my heart which pretty much defines me."
The heart of the Bengals defense, Burfict, has left the season's first two games with a concussion and it's hard to find anyone who thinks he'll play in Sunday's 1 p.m. game against Tennessee at Paul Brown Stadium. If he can't go, it will be for the first time in his 34 NFL games.
That puts Vincent Rey in Burfict's WILL backer spot relaying the signals and running the defense. But it also puts Lamur in Burfict's role of roaming the field racking up a team-high 19 tackles while teaming with Rey for brain power against the pass. Burfict led the NFL in tackles last season with a high football I.Q., but his 2012 camp mate is no dummy. Only six players in the NFL have more tackles than Lamur.
"He's a very intellectual player for us," says head coach Marvin Lewis. "He understands applying what we do defensively to the opponent and works extremely hard at it. He's working hard at excelling."
In just his third regular-season start, the 6-4, 240-pound Lamur faces another big test after surviving his Opening Day showdown just fine with Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta.
The 6-4, 248-pound Walker, 30, is going into his 54th NFL start as one of those rare two-way threats as a blocker and pass catcher and so far this season has been the Titans' most dangerous offensive player. Fleet wide receiver Justin Hunter is averaging 17.8 yards per catch, but he has just five of them. Walker has scored two touchdowns, one on their longest play of the season at 61 yards, and is coming of a career-best 142 yards in the loss to the Cowboys. And ProFootballFocus.com has Walker rated as the league's No. 1 run-blocking tight end.
Since Lamur ranked second in pass coverage, right behind his man Burfict, it's shaping up for an intriguing day at the yard.
With offenses spreading out the Bengals a bit (Baltimore's Joe Flacco threw 62 times and Atlanta's Matt Ryan was behind the second half), the nickel package is getting a workout. That's Lamur's strength and he came up with an interception in the opener. Once he gets some more reps under his belt, that's the kind of play he can take all the way instead of a one-yard run.
But he's also showing the moxie of a run-stuffer and they'll need it without Burfict.
"Tight ends are such good athletes nowadays," says Bengals linebackers coach Matt Burke. "They can go with two tight ends personnel and if you can't match them with nickel or can't stay in base, they can do too much. The defense has to find athletes to match up with those types of players and E-Man's a guy we feel does that for us…He played a little safety in college. That's where the game is going."
Lamur compares Walker's style to the Bengals' Jermaine Gresham. Walker is five inches shorter, but he has the same ability to get down the seam quickly and is a tough customer that can bounce off you and get yards after catch.
"He's a big kid that gets down the field and fights for those yards," Burke says. "He can run through you. He can also sneak up on you with his speed. We feel good about where E-Man is as a cover linebacker. The things he brings with his length he's so tall and has long arms he can kind of get into those guys a little bit."
Lamur's length makes even his teammates shake their heads. The word most commonly used is, "beast."
"You just don't see guys that tall run that fast,' Rey says. "He's one of the quickest linebackers I've seen."
Clif Marshall, the Ignition Sports trainer who helps out his mentor, Bengals head strength coach Chip Morton, in the weight room once a week, is also amazed by the arms.
"Even though they're so long, he can bench press a solid amount," Marshall says.
Marshall not only saw Lamur in action for a month working out every day in July at Ignition Sports in Blue Ash, Ohio, but he also worked with Rey, Panthers Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly, and Buffalo rookie linebacker Preston Brown. No wonder Marshall called them "Linebacker U." After two games Kuechly and Brown have 20 tackles and are tied for third in the NFL, one ahead of Lamur.
"Luke says working out with guys like E-Man and Vinny inspire him," Marshall says. "That's how much passion he has."
During one of those long sprints they call gassers, Lamur vowed he'd beat Kuechly and Lamur had him until Kuechly caught him at the end. Never mind that Kuechly figures to run the 40-yard dash in the low 4.5 seconds and here is this marble block of man almost beating him. Lamur wanted to win and in a rare flash of anger began throwing things.
"Competing is what makes football fun," Lamur says. "I just love competing."
If anybody knows what makes Lamur tick, it is Rey. Like Rey grew close to veteran Dhani Jones as a rookie (and took his No. 57 when he retired), Lamur has stayed close to Rey. They share a spiritual interest in The Walk and Lamur spends a lot of time talking about faith and football.
"He's close to his family. He talks to his identical twin (Samuel) once a day,' Rey says. "And he talks a lot about football."
Lamur has been in the Bengals defense longer than he's been on his new walk. During his stint in the training room last season, he got baptized and has become a reliable speaker for Marshall’s ministry, often helping feed the hungry every Monday night during the offseason at downtown Cincinnati's Drop-In Center while giving his testimony.
"Only God knows,' he says when asked how far he can take his length and heart.
Along with his twin's cell number, he can recite from memory his two favorite Biblical verses ("I can do all things through Christ[a] who strengthens me," from Philippians and" 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,'" from Jeremiah) as well as why he plays with such joy.
"I don't like football," he says. I love football.
"It (stinks) not having the captain of your defense. We play for him," Lamur says of Burfict. "We can't lose that beat. It happens. Pain and bruises. I'm a prime example."