Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt is a talented player that's extremely raw with only a couple years of football in his pocket -- as opposed to most NFL players having played since they were kids. Hunt, a second-round selection from the 2013 NFL draft, is projected as a possible Michael Johnson replacement.
Johnson, who generated 11.5 quarterback sacks in 2012, was unable to reach an agreement on a long-term extension with the Bengals over the summer. Playing on a franchise tag, Johnson isn't expected to return next season because the team will be facing expensive negotiations with Geno Atkins, along with A.J. Green and Andy Dalton next spring.
So the development of Hunt is important.
At one point against the Falcons, Hunt almost recorded his first sack of the preseason late in the first half. With over two minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Falcons have third-and-13 when quarterback Dominique Davis takes the shotgun snap. Hunt was at left-DE.
After scanning the field momentarily, Davis sprints on a rollout to the right when DeQuin Evans forced the backup quarterback out of the pocket. Hunt broke from his blocker, hurting Davis' chance to scramble for yards.
Unable to step upfield, Davis continues rolling out towards the sidelines -- though impressively he's keeping his eyes downfield. Hunt nearly wrapped Davis, but slid off and rolled out of bounds as Davis tip-toed down the sidelines. Evans made the hit that shoved Davis out of bounds. Instead of eating the football or throwing it away, Davis tried make a jump shot throw. Brandon Ghee stepped in front of receiver Drew Davis and picked off the football that eventually led to a Giovani Bernard touchdown.
Defensive line coach Jay Hayes believes as Hunt learns to play in the NFL, he'll develop the confidence in his own abilities to sack the quarterback when dealing with a similar scenario in the future.
"(Hunt) was in pretty good shape but just looking at that play, it was not a smart play by that quarterback, but he’s really athletic," said Hayes to Fox Sports Ohio. "That kid was a pretty good athlete that he was chasing. I thought he’d be able to finish him without him getting the ball off… Maybe by mid-year he’ll sack that guy because he’ll realize you can’t outrun me and I know the guy can’t outrun him. He’ll trust himself to know that he can’t be outrun."
One of the things that Hayes has been working on with Hunt is technique and leverage.
"Every now and then you’ll see him standing up at six-foot-eight and I want him down at six-foot-two and doing stuff," said Hayes to Fox Sports Ohio. "Like Lou Holtz used to say, 'You’re either in football position or you’re running…' He needs to be a knee-bender all of the time and he’s not quite that."
Hunt totaled two tackles against the Falcons in his preseason opener last Thursday.