Tanner Hawkinson, the Bengals fifth-round pick, is a young man the Bengals are hurrying along the offensive line. Envisioning Hawkinson as the next Dave Lapham, he's working at left tackle and left guard this week as OTAs opened at Paul Brown Stadium.
"Being versatile is what he's going to be really good at," said Kyle Caskey, offensive line coach Paul Alexander's assistant. "He's not a one-position guy."
Before the rookie minicamp, the 6-5, 300-pound Hawkinson had never been a guard or a center, either. But before he got to Kansas and played both tackles, he hadn't been an offensive lineman, either. So the former prep tight end/defensive end has lived a career of adjustments.
How about never playing guard in your life and lining up across from Geno Atkins, arguably the best defensive tackle in the game?
"He's shifty; he's quick," Hawkinson said. "Sometimes when you line up on the ball, you think he's over there, and then all of a sudden he's over here. The snap of a finger."
Hawkinson is taking advantage of starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) and left guard Clint Boling (ankle) rehabbing injuries that won't keep them out of training camp and is playing both spots to start it off. This looks to be the coming attractions of a training camp battle involving Hawkinson, Ohio State rookie right tackle Reid Fragel, and veteran backup Anthony Collins's 18 NFL starts at both tackles for the spots behind Whitworth and right tackle Andre Smith.
"There's still a learning curve at guard, but I think I'm picking up the plays pretty well, Hawkinson said. "There are times the ends flip, or a guy goes in motion, or the snap count all of a sudden changes. You have to be on your toes at all times."
Hawkinson says it is a little easier to pass protect at guard because he doesn't have to worry about a rusher having the time and space to cut underneath him off the edge. But the run game is a different story.
"We're such a downhill team and when you have to move Geno Atkins off the ball, or move a Domata Peko off the ball, they are big bodies," Caskey said. "Then we turn around and run our zone plays and you still have to get them moved off the ball. At guard, you've got to be ready to go both ways. At left tackle, we're running right half the time, then he's just cutting off on the back side. But a guard is in the mix on every play.
"The thing about Hawkinson is that he's got really good feet and he's smart. I don't know if he's had a mental mistake. If he has, they've been minimal."
Hawkinson admits left tackle hasn't been a day at the beach, either. Not with the 18 combined sacks last season of right ends Michael Johnson and Wallace Gilberry.
"It's different than rookie minicamp; the veterans are quicker," Hawkinson said. "No. 93 (Johnson) is the kind of guy that has the prototypical build for a defensive end. He's long, he's quick, he's a good player. No. 95 (Gilberry) is a bigger guy ... it's a lot quicker than rookie minicamp."
Whitworth has made it easier by standing right there on every play and watching.
"He doesn't say something after every play, but he pulls me over a lot to talk to me. He's been a great resource," Hawkinson said. "It's pretty much going over what Coach Alexander teaches because it's different than what I had. He gives me tips that might make it a little easier to catch on to those techniques a little quicker."
When rookie right guard Kevin Zeitler struggled with Atkins last year before he made everyone's all-rookie team, he took some consolation and Hawkinson says he'll do the same.
"That's probably true," Hawkinson said. "If you can block him, you've got a good chance against a lot of other guys."
WEIGHTY MOVE: As the defense welcomes James Harrison, Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton thinks his weight room is also going to be the beneficiary of a major free-agent pickup.
Ron McKeefery, who spent the last two seasons as the head strength and conditioning coach for the University of Tennessee football team, joins Morton and assistant Jeff Friday in what is a reunion of sorts. The trio first met when Morton and Friday worked for the Ravens a dozen years ago in the Tampa Super Bowl that Baltimore throttled the Giants, when McKeefery hosted them at the University of South Florida facility he oversaw as the Bulls strength coach.
McKeefery spent 11 seasons at USF, where his teams were unbeaten in 10 overtime games, before he moved on to Knoxville and was named a Master Strength and Conditioning Coach by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association in a ceremony earlier this month.
"That award shows he's a heck of a coach," Morton said. "You not only have to have longevity, but you also have had to be successful and he's a great coach."
McKeefery broke into the NFL as a part-timer and assistant with Tampa Bay before heading to NFL Europe for a year in 2000. Now that he's back in the league as the 2008 Under Armour Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year, he's able to incorporate his varied experience with the combined 38 NFL seasons of Friday and Morton.
"There weren't many places I would go, but this is one of them because I've respected Chip and Jeff from afar," McKeefery said. "They've always been great to me in the past. Any time I was at South Florida and we played at (the University of) Cincinnati, I'd stop by. Jeff came down at one point and visited us at South Florida.
"These players are pros and you can tell by the way they carry themselves. They get it that what we're doing now is going to carry over into the preseason games, the 16-game regular season and the playoffs. You realize the impact we have on these guys outside of the two hours every day in this room. There's everything from nutrition, sleep, recovery, and the mental preparation for playing the game."
JERSEY JIM: Jim Lippincott, the former Bengals director of football operations, showed up at a PBS practice this week for just the second time since he retired a year ago and head coach Marvin Lewis took advantage and made the presentation he's been waiting to make since last spring.
Lewis called up his players before practice and then motioned Lippincott over from the sidelines to present him with a framed No. 20 Bengals jersey that signified his years with the club.
"That's so nice. I'm so honored. It's awesome," Lippincott said.
Lippincott had a big role in the four previous draft classes that have drawn such rave reviews. When he retired after the 2011 season to become the defensive coordinator at Moeller High School, he moonlighted in the Bengals draft room that following spring. Once the draft was done, Lippincott immediately hit the field at Mighty Mo and he returned this week with a state title.
"Our season started so quickly, I could only get down for one practice at training camp and I couldn't get to a game until the last one," he said.
The real reason he came down to practice this week was to pick the mind of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Lippincott runs a 4-4 at Moeller and says the NFL "is such a different game," but that doesn't stop him from picking up something.
"I always pick up something from Zim," Lippincott said. "If you took their over-defense and took the weak safety and dropped him in the box, that's what we play.
"Zim does such a good job teaching, making it simple so they're reacting and not thinking."