It might be sooner than expected.
That's the theme for Bengals rookies that were drafted five months ago.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati's first round pick from the 2013 NFL draft, has already made an impression while on pace to generate 64 receptions and 912 yards receiving this season. Arguably his 61-yard wide open reception on Monday Night, was the spark that Cincinnati's offense needed to generate momentum.
Earlier this week, it was raised that Giovani Bernard could have his contributions increased to an even 50-50 split with starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis. His performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers was a significant argument for offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. It was the 4.8 yard average on eight carries and the 27-yard touchdown reception. But it was his pass protection that sealed an eventuality... something that running backs coach Hue Jackson was confident that Bernard would develop.
"I expect him to score touchdowns," Jackson said via Bengals.com. "He's a sensational runner. I think he's a big-time player. But he should be. That's why he was the first running back taken in the draft. That doesn't surprise me. There were people who weren't sure about his pass blocking. I was because I know his heart and his desire. But the fight, the assurance of assignments, the finish has been outstanding. We've been more than happy with that."
Bengals offensive coordinator envisions that Bernard's participation will expand.
"I think they are going to get more to 50/50 sooner than later, probably," Gruden when asked about snap distribution between Bernard and Green-Ellis.
Sixteen picks later in the second round, Cincinnati went with an athletic defensive end that was designed with the development label. Margus Hunt is entering his fifth year in football and the plan was to develop Hunt as the team's fifth defensive end. Now with Robert Geathers' season-ending injury placing him on IR, Hunt's opportunities will increase.
"I’m ready to go. I mean I’ve been ready to play. During the preseason I felt like I got better every game and during the Indianapolis game was pretty good playing the run and pass. I played a lot during that game," Hunt said via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I feel like I can help out this team. I feel comfortable with the plays we have in and now it’s just a matter of being out there and playing. They do a lot of passing so it will be good to have fresh guys in there."
As Joe Reedy with the Cincinnati Enquirer writes, head coach Marvin Lewis deflected the possibility of Hunt playing this weekend against the Green Bay Packers. But he's confidant that Hunt can contribute when he's in the game.
"He can contribute if we need him to," Lewis said. "What he’s doing is exactly what I expected and is similar to Marvin Jones and some of the other guys in those spots."
Tanner Hawkinson, selected in the fifth round earlier this year, could be a game-day active against the Packers. And maybe he'll receive a handful of snaps against the Packers. Andrew Whitworth will start at left tackle, but it's unknown if the team intends to rotate Whitworth with someone. Considering that Whitworth last played with full pads when lost to the Houston Texans nearly nine months ago, Anthony Collins rotated into the game last Monday to ease the Pro Bowl tackle into game condition. However, backup left tackle Anthony Collins missed two practice sessions this week, listed as questionable. If he's unable to go, Hawkinson could be active on the gameday roster and listed as the first backup left tackle.
The interesting perspective with this year's rookies was that they were designed to help build the team's depth and maybe one day develop into starters. Eifert and Bernard have already made a long-term impression, but that was expected the moment that they were drafted. Hunt wasn't supposed to be much of a contributor on defense, but injuries tend to accelerate a player's development.