OTAs are officially underway for the Cincinnati Bengals as the team begins its quest for a third straight playoff appearance and its first postseason win in countless years.
There were obvious questions entering OTAs. How do the rookies fit with the team? Has Andy Dalton taken the next step? How is the new-look running game? Just how are the ultra-competitive positions of linebacker and wide receiver going to play out over the course of the preseason?
We're already seeing some of these questions starting to get answered.
In the following slideshow we'll take a look at the most important news surrounding players as they participate in OTAs and give our personal take on the matter.
Let's take a look.
When the Bengals made Kevin Zeitler the pick at No. 27 overall in the 2012 NFL draft, the coaching staff knew it was getting a heck of a player who also comes packaged with great character and leadership qualities.
Zeitler continues to show that in the early-goings of his sophomore campaign.
According to Dan Hoard over at Bengals.com, Zeitler is staying late after each practice to improve:
Kevin’s always one of the last guys to leave because he’s always doing something extra and working on something that maybe he didn’t do as well,” said Marvin Lewis. “He’s very conscientious that way.
According to Hoard's radio partner Dave Lapham, Zeitler has his eyes set on big things:
He wants to be great – not good – but great,” said Lapham. “He wants to be a Hall of Fame type guy. That’s a coach’s dream and I’m sure that (offensive line coach) Paul Alexander is thrilled to death to have a guy like that. The longer he’s around, the more his work habits are going to spill off to the other guys too. He’s a great example that there are no shortcuts to success.
Zeitler is doing everything a first-round pick is supposed to do both on the field and off. It's a bit surprising to hear him putting in so much effort this early in preseason.
Why? Zeitler was the No. 12 overall guard in the NFL last season as he started all 16 games for the Bengals at right guard, at least according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Zeitler's work ethic is encouraging and it appears the sky is the limit as far as his development in the coming years.
Tanner Hawkinson out of Kansas was the pick for Cincinnati in a somewhat head-scratching decision in the fifth round of this year's draft. Hawkinson was a lesser-known name who hadn't exactly had praise heaped on him as the draft approached.
Now, none of that matters and Hawkinson has continued to show in OTAs exactly why Cincinnati made him the pick.
According to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, Hawkinson has lined up at every position in the offensive line and has made few mistakes:
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.
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.
It's shocking to hear just how great of a preseason Hawkinson has had so far and it goes to show the massive gap that still exists between draft analysts and what truly goes on in the upper echelon of NFL franchises.
Hawkinson hasn't been great by any means, but practicing against guys like Geon Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson and reportedly looking comfortable so far in OTAs is a seriously good sign.
Add in his versatility and Hawkinson is looking like a sleeper.
Brandon Joiner is turning his life around with the Bengals.
Stop if you've heard this story before.
Joiner, well, joined the Bengals along with fellow undrafted rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict last offseason after the draft but was incarcerated for crimes he committed at the age of 18.
Now, Joiner is back with the Bengals and according to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, is making the right impressions on everyone as he makes a positional change:
The 6-3, 245-pound Joiner is making the switch to SAM linebacker, a democratic move that harbors no classes. Fellow free agent Jayson DiManche made the same move this past week in rookie minicamp that Joiner made at last year's rookie minicamp. Aaron Maybin, a former No. 1 pick, is making a similar move and so is, in a sense, Super Bowl hero James Harrison as he morphs from a 3-4 outside backer to a 4-3 SAM.
But none of them spent May 23, 2012- Jan. 15, 2013 in a Texas jail losing a dozen pounds.
Joiner is a great story. The report goes on to speak as to just how much he's turned his life around, including his love for community service.
While still a long-shot to make the roster thanks to the wealth of talent already in place, Joiner has the physical tools and an untold amount of motivation to make his dreams come true. Watch him closely as the preseason wears on toward its conclusion.
There was a three-game stretch for Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu in the middle of last season where things finally all came together at once and he scored four touchdowns.
The explosion in production was short-lived, however, as Sanu succumbed to an injury that ended his rookie campaign soon after.
“I feel real strong and explosive,” said Sanu, who caught 11 passes for 98 yards and four touchdowns in the three games prior to his season-ending injury. “It felt great to be back out there on the field doing the things I was doing last year: running routes full speed, stopping and going, run blocking, catching balls again.”
Sanu showed in his electric three-game stretch that he has what it takes to be the No. 2 receiver opposite A.J. Green in the dynamic West Coast offense employed by Cincinnati.
In fact, Sanu showed last season he can be as versatile as someone like Percy Harvin or Randall Cobb in that he can line up not only at receiver, but at running back and quarterback as well.
Sanu may be the most important player on offense next season not named Dalton. You know what you have in Green, but if Sanu can produce consistently the Bengals will be hard to slow down.
Adam Jones is set to play an important role in the overall success or failure of the Cincinnati defense next season as he acts as the third corner behind Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick.
Heck, Kirkpatrick isn't a sure thing and Jones could be asked to step up into an even bigger role.
That said, Jones has struggled with erratic injuries over the past few seasons but entered OTAs fully healthy.
That changed quickly.
According to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, Jones injured himself defending a deep pass in practice:
Earlier in team work Dalton hit wide receiver Marvin Jones deep running past cornerback Adam Jones and safety Taylor Mays. Jones left the field soon after, apparently tweaking his calf.
A tweak is a bigger deal than you may realize, especially in the lower leg area for a position such as cornerback. It's the type of nagging issue that could hang around all year long if not addressed properly.
Cincinnati cannot allow that to happen with Jones because he is simply too vital to the success of the unit next season.
Expect Jones to sit out most of the summer until he is back to 100 percent.
The Bengals have a sleeper in weak-side linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. He stuck around with the team last season and was impressive in spot-duty when called upon in nickel packages.
Lamur figures to take on a bigger role in the defense next season with veteran Thomas Howard gone and a rookie in Sean Porter as one of the only rotational pieces.
Apparently Lamur is off to a hot start, as Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com documented recently:
Watch out for Lamur. He looks like he's headed to a breakout year. Lamur, a free-agent out of Kansas State, played his rookie year at 230 pounds. This year's he's up to the 242-pound range and his teammates are raving about how he maintained his speed.
Call it a hunch, but Lamur has the opportunity to make things very difficult on the coaching staff this preseason—and will.
Lamur is athletic enough and has shown enough in live action to be an every-down starter. If the reports of his improvement coming out of OTAs are to be believed, then he has to be in consideration for a starting role.
A starting role for Lamur means someone has to go. Sliding Vontaze Burfict to the middle and keeping Rey Maualuga or James Harrison at the strong-side linebacker spot would give the Bengals a scary rotation of quality.
It all hinges on just how much Lamur has improved.
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