Following the NFL draft, the Bengals have a bunch of new players for coaches like Marvin Lewis to rant and rave about. This is especially true after the rookie mini-camp, which took place this weekend. The coaching staff actually had a chance to see their guys in action for the first time in Bengals jerseys. Following the first day of working with the rookies, head coach Marvin Lewis had plenty to say about the new guys.
"I'm really pleased with our opportunity and efforts out there today," Lewis said of the rookies and eligible second year players taking part in rookie mini-camp. "Our guys carried themselves and handled themselves well."
It was the wide receivers who Lewis had the most to say about. Especially Tyler Boyd who the Bengals scooped up in Round 2 after a run on wide receivers caused no receivers with a Round 1 grade to be available when the Bengals were on the clock with pick No. 24. The Bengals found their replacement for the losses of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu one round later and Lewis seems confident in Boyd's ability on the field, as well as his own confidence.
"That's why you pick a guy like that," Lewis said on Boyd's confidence. "You don't want to pick a church mouse. It won't go very far if you do."
Despite his confidence, the Bengals are sticking to their strategy of letting players develop slowly, rather than overwhelming them with the speed of the game all at once.
"We're trying to establish a foundation and basis to build from," Lewis said of throwing the rookies into the fire early. "Two weeks from now when they're with the other players, we want them to understand the words and have it make sense. As we progress through that, they have an opportunity to go out there and exhibit their football abilities and not just be thinking all the time.
"Offensively, it's with the huddle calls, the formations, alignments, and the techniques that it takes to play your position. It's the same thing for the defense that way," Lewis said. "We want to put Tyler Boyd and Cody Core in a position to learn the offense as quickly as possible."
The Bengals have the luxury of building Boyd - and other rookies -- up through a solid and cohesive unit, which can benefit players in the long run rather than throwing them onto the field before they're ready.
There's also the matter of their undrafted free agent signings. The Bengals picked up Wisconsin wide receiver Alex Erickson, as well as Toledo receiver Alonzo Russell after the Draft ended and Lewis was prepared to talk about how impressed he was by each of the rookies.
"He's a big guy who has some timed speed to him," Lewis said of Russell. "He's got a little issue he had to have lanced today, so we won't see him participate fully. Hopefully we can get him healthy here soon to participate."
The situation was unfortunate for Russell, but the other undrafted wide receiver, Erickson, had more of an opportunity to make an impression on the coaching staff with his helmet on. "Alex is very productive. We were encouraged to be able to sign him after the draft." Lewis said. "We're excited to get him for what he's able to do as a receiver and returner."
In 2015, Erikson returned 24 punt returns for an average of 7.3 yards per attempt and 2 kick returns for an average of 18.5 yards per attempt. As a receiver, he totaled 77 receptions for 978 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2015. Russell also has some experience with kick and punt returning, but far less. He returned one kickoff for 23 yards and 1 punt for 0 yards in 2015. His senior season he had 26 targets for 618 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Last year, the Bengals were very encouraged by the progress of one particular undrafted free agent, Jake Kumerow out of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He hasn't had a chance to make an impact on the active squad so far, but was on the practice squad for the entirety of last season and worked hard enough that he's clearly made an impression on the coaching staff. Erickson and Russell will be guys to look out for to snatch up a spot on the practice squad this season.
Of the Bengals' Day 3 picks, Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings has been the one discussed most. Plenty of mock drafts leading up to that day had the Bengals selecting Billings in the first round, so getting him in the fourth round was pretty much universally seen as a great pick.
"He's everything we expected him to be," Lewis said of Billings. "He's got width to him, strength, and the ability to move his feet and penetrate if that's what we ask him to do. He's a young guy; he's got the whole thing ahead of him."
There was plenty of hype on the Billings train leading up to the Bengals selecting him with the 122nd pick of the 2016 NFL draft. However, the hype seems to be justified, based on Lewis' reaction to seeing Billings in action. "With your own D-line, they feel his presence. If they run into him, it's like hitting a brick wall." Lewis said. "I'm pleased. Our inside guys we have in there, Cooper from Houston, Alex from UCLA, and Chris from ASU, are big men. That's good work, to work against big guys. That's what we want conversely for our own defense; to work against the three guys that they're going against on offense. We have three 310-plus men that have big body strength, and that's good for the interior line."
Lewis was also particularly complimentary about a pair of higher draft picks, both of whom impressed heavily, as should be expected. "I thought William Jackson clicked today, and Nick Vigil." Lewis said. "That's encouraging; those are two guys that can help us early in the season."
It's always good when early draft picks impress right away for a team, but you know it's impressive when Lewis is saying they'll be contributing early, since his coaching staff is typically known for redshirting most rookies to give them a chance to learn before throwing them into the fire.
"It's like [Jackson's] been doing it all his life with us. That's what's exciting," Lewis said. "To see Nick Vigil out there today running the defense like he's been the Mike linebacker the entire time was really good too. It was impressive."
It seems like Marvin Lewis was very impressed by what he saw from his new players this weekend. One of the most notable stories coming out of Day 1 of rookie mini-camp was Cody Core being carted off the field during practice. But, Lewis wasn't worried about the incident.
"He was just getting an IV. That's all," Lewis said laughing. "We had to have one of those today."