The Bengals are hoping to take advanage of Jordan Evans' speed.
The NFL made it official Thursday when they announced Vontaze Burfict's four-game suspension at the start of the season for violating the league policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Unofficially, that makes sophomore Jordan Evans the leading candidate for the Opening Day start in Burfict's spot at WILL linebacker. Evans started four of the final five games last year at SAM in place of the injured Nick Vigil but he began his rookie year backing up Burfict.
The other Opening Day starting backers are definitely Vigil and newcomer Preston Brown, the former Bills linebacker who led the NFL in tackles last season. The WILL spot could always be filled by a highly-drafted rookie, but everyone is expecting the Bengals to go looking for linemen on either side of the ball early, as well as safety if the tea leaves are to be read correctly.
New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is making no declarations before off-season workouts start Monday and is going in with a blank slate. But going off what transpired last season when they were encouraged by the work of the fleet Evans and what he can do with his 4.5 speed makes him the odds-on favorite to start even though ultimate utility man Vincent Rey has started the last three Opening Days in place of Burfict, the last two because ofd suspensions stemming from violations of the player safety rules.
The highly-regarded Rey, 30, who triumphed in last year's Gladiator finale in Baltimore, figures to get some snaps at the outside spots during the spring, but with middle backer depth low look for him to also back up Brown. Head coach Marvin Lewis has indicated he wants edge rusher Carl Lawson to work at linebacker and so he'll probably back up Vigil during the spring since he's lined up at SAM whenever he has moved to backer.
Since he got drafted in the sixth round last year, Evans has watched Burfict's every move and since Burfict is allowed to participate in the off-season workouts, training camp and pre-season games, he'll still be calling on his counsel.
"He's not only a mentor, he's a friend," Evans said. "Tez and I are cool. He's a football player. He was made to play this game. He knows the game, he studies the game."
Evans knows because he says Burfict has taught him not only how to watch film but also showed him certain techniques.
"Hand placement, how to take on blocks," Evans said. "You see how he practices. Yeah, he can tell where the play is going and he's given me some tips."
The Bengals have plenty of practice replacing Burfict. Since he made the 2013 Pro Bowl, he's missed 28 of 64 regular-season games, games the Bengals have gone 15-13, but 3-8 the last two years. Rey has started in his place in all but one of those 28 games, seven for suspensions and the rest for injuries.
Evans knows they won't hand the job to him Opening Day. The spring figures to see everybody everywhere.
"I could be (the starter), but whatever the role is I'm called to do I'm ready," Evans said. "If that means back-up and special teams, I won't run from that."