5 Biggest Takeaways from the Cincinnati Bengals' OTAs
With OTAs under way, the Cincinnati Bengals are slowly discovering where their true talents lie. These OTAs make for a fantastic weeding-out process, and it will hopefully lead to the team cutting some dead weight.
Despite having only been working this offseason for a short time, we are already seeing positive signs from this team. It seems that a lot of attention falls to the rookies at this point in the offseason, and first-round pick Darqueze Dennard is no exception. He is already seeing a lot of first-team action.
Further, teammate Jeremy Hill is turning heads as well. Still, the OTAs can provide any amount of surprises, which is the beauty of this time of year.
With plenty of offseason time still left, what have we learned so far?
Margus Hunt Is the Front Runner to Start at Left End
Plenty of questions surrounded Margus Hunt when the Bengals drafted him in 2013. The gargantuan Estonian has the size and speed to play, but he is still learning how to play defensive end in the NFL.
For now, the project seems to be going well. Hunt has been splitting first-team looks with six-year veteran Wallace Gilberry, who had a substantially better 2013 season. Gilberry filled in fantastically to help an injury-riddled defensive line last season, racking up 7.5 sacks.
Jason Marcum of CincyJungle.com makes a good point though—Gilberry has proven to be a valuable tool off the bench and will be able to rotate in and out as both a defensive end and tackle.
Is this the reason for Hunt being the front-runner? Maybe, but Paul Guenther seems to have confidence his abilities to draw out the monster that gathered eight sacks during his senior year at SMU.
Hunt will continue to progress, but if he falters, Gilberry and rookie Will Clarke will be ready.
Vincent Rey Seeing Time with First Team
At first glance, you may be led to believe that Rey is seeing starting time as the strong-side linebacker. However, he has been seeing his first-team time at middle linebacker, where Rey Maualuga has been the starter for the last several seasons.
This is one thing that you can't jump to conclusions about. With Rey's breakout 2013 season, it can certainly be argued that he currently holds more value than Maualuga, who has taken a lot of scrutiny over the last couple of seasons.
However, amidst Rey's early success, I would be stunned to see him earn the starting position over Maualuga, at least not Week 1. It seems to make more sense to give him a shot at the strong-side position, but in the team's defense, prior to last season, Rey's only career start was at weak-side linebacker.
Whether Maualuga stays healthy or not, you can expect to see Rey rotated in more often after having a fantastic showing in 2013.
Darqueze Dennard Is Turning Heads
Vance Joseph, the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive backs coach, had a lot to say to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com ( h/t Cincy Jungle's Jason Marcum) regarding the early success of Darqueze Dennard,"I'm not surprised. His mistakes have been minimal and the ones he's made, he's making corrections."
This comes as fantastic news to a secondary that was in dire need of a competent cornerback. The secondary was depleted last season due to injuries, and it was clear that a younger face needed to enter the picture. Leon Hall may still have a couple of years left to give despite recurring Achilles injuries, but Terence Newman and Adam Jones have certainly slowed down.
That leaves Dre Kirkpatrick, who could see a lot of action in 2014, but you can't expect that given his injury struggles. Dennard is even being used in blitzing packages, which is something that wasn't commonly seen from other Bengal defenses.
As good as some of those defenses were under Mike Zimmer, there never seemed to be much quarterback pressure from the secondary. If Dennard, who is lightning quick off the edge, can learn how to effectively get after the quarterback, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger could be in for a nightmare against him.
After the letdown that was Dre Kirkpatrick in 2012, it's nice to see a first-round corner making some noise. It will be a sight to see if this progress continues.
Let's just hope the contract situation is handled soon though.
Hue Jackson Hurrying Up the Offense
Coley Harvey, the Bengals' ESPN reporter, stated in his OTA update that new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was upset at his offense for, "breaking the huddle too slowly."
A quicker-paced offense would bring quite the change of pace to Cincinnati, as they seemed more comfortable with a slower offense under Jay Gruden. This is not to imply that we're going to consistently see the hurry-up offense, but it would be refreshing to see a little more urgency in this offense.
Over the last couple of seasons, it seemed that there was almost no urgency to the offense, particularly in the playoff games against Houston.
It's already been discussed what kind of changes Jackson will bring to the Bengals offense, but if he can increase the speed of their game, defenses could be even more stymied by the speed of Gio Bernard and A.J. Green.
Jeremy Hill Will See Plenty of Snaps
It's beginning to look like the Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill tandem is taking shape. There is no question who the top running back on the team is, but based on OTA's, the rookie Hill will get his fair share of time to run with the ball.
According to Coley Harvey on ESPN.com, "Hill has gotten his share of hand-offs with the first-team unit alongside Bernard." He went on to state that there were even instances when the two were in the backfield together.
This makes the future of the running game in Cincinnati appear even better than what was already anticipated. The running game struggled throughout most of Jay Gruden's tenure, as the team never seemed to be able to get the most out of BenJarvus Green-Ellis—who now appears to be on the outside looking in as he is taking snaps with the third team.
Hue Jackson has taken the reins as the Bengals' offensive coordinator, and seems poised to break this offense out of its inconsistent slump.
Bernard is going to be the quick-footed leg of the group while Hill is able to use brute force to shed tackles. Make no mistake, he also carries some speed.
It's always fantastic to have rookies leave a good first impression.