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Margus Hunt ready to show everyone he's "a grown-ass man"

Hopefully, that's a "grown-ass man" who can play "grown-ass man" professional football.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the 2016 season, the Bengals still have some big questions needing to be answered at defensive end.

That's hard to believe when they already feature one of the best 4-3 end tandems you'll find in Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. Those two have wreaked havoc in opposing backfields throughout their careers in orange stripes, and there's no reason to think they won't again this year.

But in today's pass-happy NFL, depth at defensive end is more important than it's ever been. The third end is practically a starter in most 4-3 defenses, which is bad news for a Bengals team with no proven bodies behind Dunlap and Johnson, especially after Wallace Gilberry left this offseason.

Enter Margus Hunt?

That's who the Bengals and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther hope to see emerge and take on a bigger role this year after failing to do so thus far. Part of that is injuries which have hindered Hunt in the offseason and regular season. Guenther now feels confident that the big Estonian will make an impact if he can stay healthy.

"I've seen flashes," Guenther told ESPN's Coley Harvey. "He just has to do it consistently, and he's got to stay healthy. That's been his biggest issue is as soon as we get him up and running, something happens ... and then it's like starting all over again when he gets back."

Entering training camp, Hunt is someone firmly on the roster bubble after an underwhelming three-year stint with the Bengals so far. That includes a mere two tackles in seven games last year to go with 1.5 sacks in 29 career games. That's got Hunt battling the likes of Will Clarke, Ryan Brown and Dezmond Johnson for playing time and even a roster spot this year.

That's also why Guenther plans to give Hunt and those other guys a chance to showcase themselves with the starting defense in training camp and the preseason.

"We have to get some of the guys that are backup guys and bubble guys, we've got to get them in the game early against the good players," Guenther said. "That's why it's going to be good for us to practice against Minnesota like last year when we had the Giants. We can see them going against their first-team guys because they are going to be playing against first-team guys on Sundays."

As for Hunt himself, he's had a good offseason, if for no other reason than he's been healthy during it. An offseason weight-lifting injury hamstrung Hunt for most of training camp and the preseason last year, which translated into seldom playing time in the regular season.

Hunt knows he's better than that, and he's ready to prove that to the Bengals and everyone watching him.

"I'm a grown-ass man," Hunt said during the team's June minicamp via Harvey. "I need to take hold of it in a hurry and be able to play. I know I can play and contribute to this defense."

We've seen those "grown-ass man" flashes in the preseason and brief spots in the regular season, and Hunt even made his presence felt during the 2015 Wild Card loss to the Colts.

This, after a dominant showing in the 2014 preseason that had some wondering if he was on the verge of becoming a star. That star has been clouded by injuries, inconsistency and just not getting many snaps behind Dunlap, Gilberry and Johnson since joining the Bengals as a 2013 second-round pick out of SMU.

But with such a small football background, even with Hunt turning 29 in July, he's still been a raw prospect just beginning to fully learn his position. He and the Bengals are now hoping his potential begins to showcase itself on a full-time basis this year and make the kind impact Cincinnati needs him to make.

There's no question Hunt's career is on pace to be that of a bust for a guy who was a second-round draft pick, but it could be worse. Missing out on a prospect with the No. 53 is a mere holding penalty compared to missing on the No. 2 pick, like one Jaguars tackle Luke Joeckel, who makes even Hunt look like J.J. Watt.

So at least there's that.