There are only three things certain in the world: death, taxes, and Mike Zimmer's ability to develop undrafted linebackers.
First there was Dan Skuta in 2009, a linebacker/defensive lineman hybrid out of Grand Valley State University who became a special teams ace for the Bengals. Then there was the ultra-versatile Vincent Rey out of Duke in 2010. And finally in 2012 Zimmer truly outdid himself, taking the undrafted duo of Emmanuel Lamur and Vontaze Burfict and turning them into productive cogs in his top-6 defense.
Mike Zimmer is essentially the Gordon Bombay of the football world.
So who will be the next undrafted linebacker to benefit from Zimmer's willingness to roll the dice on an unheralded player? According to Geoff Hobson, the answer could very well be 2013 UDFA Jayson DiManche.
Although he was undersized and underscouted coming out of Southern Illinois, DiManche was a workout warrior with great numbers and an enticing level of athleticism. In the hands of an experienced coach like Zimmer, that can spell greatness. Or at the very least a roster spot.
"He had the numbers of a fourth-round pick. The position drills, the pass-run reaction, the 39 (inches) vertical and the almost 11 (feet) broad jump were obviously impressive. And the way he flipped his hips and exploded off the edge, you just had to get teams to watch him."
And watch him they did. Although DiManche went undrafted, in the few short hours following the draft, a minor bidding war erupted between the Jaguars and the Bengals for the rights to sign him, and in the end Mike Brown was forced to pay $15,000 to secure the linebacker--a massive increase over the $1000 the Bengals offered to Burfict in 2012. But so far the investment has payed off. DiManchi has already put on over 20 pounds since the team signed him in April, and he spent some time working as the first SAM backer off the bench when James Harrison came down with an illness during last week's OTAs. Not too bad for an undrafted rookie.
However, as linebacker coach Paul Guenther is quick to point out, offseason depth charts are about as useless as Imperial Stormtroopers shooting at main characters during a firefight, and DiManche still has a long road ahead of him before he makes the final roster. For his part, DiManche knows what is at stake and doesn't feel as though the NFL game is too big for him.
"I wouldn't say (I'm) a longshot just because of what I did in camp and how I've improved since minicamp, through OTAs. I've been able to make adjustments. Last week (at the mandatory minicamp) I was moving my feet a little better and getting more comfortable with the playbook. I learned I can definitely keep up with the guys here. The biggest adjustment for me wasn't physically. It was just in the playbook. In college I was on the line of scrimmage most of the time. Here, backed up five yards off the line, it's a little bit different. But once I got used to it I showed my true speed a little more and my athleticism and I think as that continues I'll be able to show it a lot more."
Dan Skuta. Vincent Rey. Vontaze Burfict and Emmanuel Lamur. And now Jayson DiManche? I wouldn't bet against him.