On Friday night heading into the third round, the Bengals had four linebackers on the roster. A mere 24 hours later they had doubled their world with three draft picks and two undrafted free agents.
'At the end of the day, those guys were there, and we felt like we had to grab them," said head coach Zac Taylor. "We didn't necessarily go into the day saying we had to draft three (linebackers), but the way it shook out, those guys are going to bring value to us and have a good chance to get on the field. So we felt like (they were) too good to pass up."
The last time they grabbed three backers in a draft was 22 years ago when linebackers coach Mark Duffner welcomed Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons in the first round and Steve Foley in the third round. Duffner, now the club's senior defensive assistant working this spring with first-year linebackers coach Al Golden, has been jacked up ever since they plucked Wyoming middle backer Logan Wilson at the top of the third round.
Then they really got it going with the first pick Saturday when Appalachian State's Akeem Davis-Gaither was sitting at the top of the fourth, right where they thought he'd be. Then when Purdue's Markus Bailey, via Columbus was sitting there at the start of the seventh round, there was the hat trick.
"The room just got an influx of a bunch of young, smart good players. It's really a good deal," Duffner said. "I've got to believe the only reason Markus was there is because he was hurt. He was very, very productive up there and very smart. He's like the other two guys. He can run. He's instinctive."
The 6-1, 240-pound Bailey had a star-crossed career at Purdue fighting through two torn ACLs, the last one wiping out his senior season. A constant on the Big Ten All-Academic team, he was in the top 10 percent of his high school class at Hilliard Davidson.
"School has always been something that's been interesting, and hasn't really been difficult for me growing up," said Bailey, who has little kid would try to beat his friends in multiplication tables. "In high school you didn't have to put as much effort into studying. So as long as I put the effort in and was making sure I got my work done, it's not too difficult if you have good time management skills."
The code word for all these guys is versatility. Bailey said Golden and Duffer have told him he'll be rotating between the two inside spots.
"I love the fact that I'm able to play multiple positions, because I feel just specializing in one would be pretty boring. I like moving around," Bailey said. "It's like a different frame of mind you need have out in space on a receiver, versus on the line of scrimmage, versus a lineman or tight end or in the box. It's really fun for me to play football because I just love football in general, but I love the specific aspects of my game.
"I have really good balls skills. I'm able to get some interceptions. I think I'm a really good inside blitzer. I can utilize a lot of different third-down packages because of my ability to make running backs miss, and use leverage, and use technique to be able to get to the quarterback."
All those years ago, Spikes, Simmons and Foley formed the foundation of the only Bengals defense that finished in the top ten in 20 years. There's no first-rounder in this one, but Duffner is looking for the same kind of success.
"I'm just going through my texts," Duffner said. "The rest of the league likes the guys we got."
O-LINE STORY: When the Bengals held off until the sixth round Saturday to draft an offensive lineman in the person of Kansas tackle Hakeem Adeniji, it seemed to mean many things.
For one thing, it meant they had more linebackers rated higher than offensive linemen because they took three backers. They weren't going to force it in rounds two through four knowing they could get an O-lineman not all that much different later, such as Adeniji, a guy they liked at the Senior Bowl.
For another, they drafted two linemen rather high last year when they took Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams with the 11th pick and traded up in the fourth to get Ohio State left guard Michael Jordan.
And, they like the young guys they've already got.
"There's pieces there development-wise, and there's also smaller developments I think than you would see," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. "It's not going to jump out at you. No one's going to jump up and down and say, 'Look how much better we are.' But those things are happening, and they were happening as the season went along. So we're kind of right on the trajectory we thought they'd be on, especially with those young kids."
The addition of another projected starter in free agency, Xander Su'a Filo, spices up the competition at right guard. They feel like they've got an extra first-round pick with the return of Williams at left tackle. Callahan calls right tackle Bobby Hart "solid," AND he's encouraged by sophomore Fred Johnson's work at both tackles to provide competition on the right side. Callahan says center Trey Hopkins is "the unquestioned leader up front."
"As far as the development goes, it's hard to play offensive line in the NFL as a young kid. Mike Jordan is coming along," Callahan said. "He really played well as the year went on, and we saw some of the things that we thought we would see. It just takes time to learn how to play, to learn how to use your leverage, use your pad level and use your hands. It's a totally different game against totally different players when you get into these types of talent levels that you see.
"Bobby has been solid. He was solid this past year. And we're obviously all high on Fred Johnson, and the snaps that he got at the end of the year. It's a small sample size, but there's going to be good competition there with Fred as a right tackle. Fred's also got position flex (at guard."
And Adeniji may have a cashew allergy that kept him out of Air Force Academy, but he's not chopped liver. Just ask Bengals offensive line coach Jim Turner, still pinching himself that Adeniji, didn't go by the fourth. Turner, a veteran of the Big 12, is taken with his athleticism. And everything else.
"Great physique. Long arms. He's got a 34-inch vertical," Turner said. "Good player. This guy is a good player. He gets to the second level and when he hits you, you can see it."
Don't look for him to barge into the right tackle spot right away (he's more comfortable on the left side and Johnson has a year under his belt), but you can bet the Bengals scouts and coaches had him rated higher than the sixth round. Especially after they saw him slide into guard so easily at the Senior Bowl after a school-record 48 starts at tackle.
"He played the best against the best teams, and they played against Baylor and Oklahoma in that conference," said Callahan, who also likes the athleticism of a high school hoopster and trackster. "He's got some quickness to the second level, and you can tell his intelligence. There's a lot of things to like about him."
They love his brains, which were good enough to get into Air Force, where his brother played.
"He's as smart as they come," Turner said.
He was in the top 15 percent of his high school class in suburban Dallas at Garland High School.
"My mom's Nigerian, so it's always been school before football for her," he said. "There was one time in high school I was taking an advanced class and got a C. She almost threatened to stop me from playing football. I've always been on top of my grades."
We already knew there were some smart moves. if there was one year to coach the Senior Bowl this was it because of the lost pro days and stadium visits. But the Bengals were smart enough to look at the guys on the other sidelines at the Senior Bowl and drafted two of them off the North in Adeniji and Wilson.
"We did a lot of work on all the players in that game, and we're well ahead of our normal process if we didn't coach that game," Callahan said. "It's an advantage, and you really get a chance to know these guys and interact with them. You use it to your advantage when you can."
VIRTUAL SCHEDULE: Yes, there will be a Bengals rookie minicamp and it starts Friday and runs through Sunday.
And like the draft that just ended Saturday it's going to be virtual with coaches meeting with various group of players for five hours each day.
The veterans begin their virtual work Monday for the next three weeks for four days each week at two hours a day. That brings them to May 15, when head coach Zac Taylor says the NFL is going to provide an update on what teams can do in the ensuing weeks in response the pandemic.
Rookies can't get involved with the veterans meetings until May 11. Before then, and except for the rookie minicamp, they can talk individually with coaches.