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Bengals Rookie Defensive End Margus Hunt Facing Steep Learning Curve

The Bengals' rookie project is going through some ups and downs with his transition to the NFL. His next big hurdle comes when Training Camp opens in late July.

Joe Robbins

If you were out at a bar with some friends and Margus Hunt walked into the place, there is no doubt that the collective response would be "that guy plays professional sports". After all, 6'8" 280 pound men who can run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds don't exactly grow on trees.

After just learning the sport of professional football in college at SMU, Hunt gave himself the opportunity to play in the NFL. He racked up eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2012, but his knack for blocking kicks earned him the nickname of "The Eastern Block"--a play on that ability and the fact that he hails from Estonia.

Even with the four years of collegiate football, Hunt still showed that he is still a raw football player--hence why he fell to the back of the second round. For instance, though he had 11.5 tackles for loss and the eight sacks as a senior, Hunt only had 31 total tackles. That means that when he only had 11.5 tackles beyond the big plays that he made behind the line of scrimmage. It's that kind of stat that points to the "boom or bust" label that many draftniks placed on him this spring.

With OTAs now in the books, the big man from Eastern Europe got his feet wet with some NFL football for the first time and there has been a learning curve, to say the least. Defensive line coach, Jay Hayes is trying to ease the transition as much as possible.

After an OTA practice when asked about Hunt's progress, Hayes said (via Paul Dehner, Jr. of The Cincinnati Enquirer):

"He doesn't have a whole lot to fall back on," defensive line coach Jay Hayes said. "So, the things (SMU) did that are similar to what we do, he really doesn't have a big library in there to say, 'This is how we do this,' or take over and do things second nature. That is what's difficult for him right now."

"I wouldn't say that he doesn't have bad habits," Hayes said. "He just doesn't have really any habits. There's opportunities for him he comes out he just doesn't know enough to say, 'OK, this is how I should attack that.' That's where I'm seeing some delay in his development. Everything's just not natural."

And, honestly, this is the sort of response from a coach that we'd expect when working with a "project player" like Hunt. And Hunt himself admitted that he's doing what he can to catch himself up on the advanced nuances of the NFL game.

It's a new system, I'm trying to get used to it," said Hunt. "I only knew one sort of defense the past four years my entire football career. I'm trying to get a hold of it."

Hunt is the most recent in a long line of the project players that the Bengals' staff loves to invest in. Offensive lineman Stacy Andrews was one, Jason Shirley was another. Reggie McNeal could be considered another late round guy that was another. Really, the only other "project player" that the team invested such a high pick in other than Hunt was Jerome Simpson.

The good thing about Hunt and his development is that he has time to be groomed. With Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson being here for at least 2013, Hunt doesn't need to be rushed along into a big role. And, with the wonders that both Hayes and Mike Zimmer have worked on that defensive front, optimism should be high that Hunt will be that "boom" player that everyone is hoping for.