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Margus Hunt improving, but still has work to do

After a terrible outing against the Vikings, Hunt was a bit better against the Lions. Still, he has a lot of work to do.

Figuring out Margus Hunt has easily been one of the most frustrating things for fans of the Cincinnati Bengals over the last few years. The hope this offseason was that he would break out in 2016, the final year of his rookie contract, after failing to make an impact in the three prior seasons. He even put in work this offseason with hall of famer Kevin Greene to improve his technique. But, he looked awful last week against the Minnesota Vikings.

Selected by the Bengals in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the thought was that his 6’8”, 277-pound frame combined with outstanding athleticism was worth taking a risk on the fact that he was already 25 and had never played American football until his freshman year at SMU, 2009.

Unfortunately, those qualities haven’t helped him produce at the NFL level. In three seasons, he has never started a game and has only recorded seven tackles, one and a half sacks, and a pass deflection.

Since he is in a contract year, you would think an abysmal performance in the preseason would be the only way the team would give up on him before his contract is up. Well, he certainly looked bad enough last week to be cut but he did look better this week against the Detroit Lions. Still, it's not really enough to shake off how bad he looked against the Vikings.

For example, this one play early in his first drive pretty much sums up how his day went.

If you follow No. 99 on the left end, you will see a player who was generally in the right place, fighting hard and plugging up a hole to help his team bring Zach Zenner down on a short yardage situation. Granted, Hunt was pushed around by Lions’ tight end Matthew Mulligan, so his technique still doesn’t look great on this play. But, it’s important that he’s starting to recognize where he needs to be during plays and doesn’t appear to be showing the level of disinterest that was so prevalent last week.

There were also a few plays where he managed to put some real pressure on the offensive backfield. His play was generally overlooked in situations like the following, which set up one of the most exciting plays of the game for the Bengals.

Granted, Hunt’s overly wide angle taken on this pass rush was something that he will want to improve on in the future so that he can get to the quarterback faster. But, he was the only defensive lineman to get any kind of pressure on Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky on this play, causing him to hesitate before throwing the ball and allowing Derron Smith the opportunity to pick the ball off. As you’ll recall, Smith returned the interception to the endzone, putting the Bengals up by more than a touchdown for the first time in the game.

But, pushing through his blockers continued to be a huge issue for Hunt. On the very next defensive play after Smith’s pick-six, Hunt was absolutely manhandled by Lions’ right tackle Cornelius Lucas.

With all of that bulk and strength, it doesn’t really make sense why the thing Hunt struggles with the most is pushing through opposing blockers. It could potentially be the fact that he’s so focused on remembering the plays and getting in the right spot that he doesn’t focus enough on the task at hand.

But, there are still times like the following when he almost makes a huge play and you think that this guy could still potentially be something great with more development.

For the most part, the whole defensive line did great on that particular play. Had Orlovsky not gotten the ball off, that would have been a fantastic sack that would likely have been credited to both Hunt and Pat Sims.

Next week, it would be nice to see Hunt continue to improve and actually record some stats. In particular, getting to the ball carrier and pushing through blocks are major areas that need work. But, if he can continue to improve through the preseason, chances are the Bengals are going to give him the rest of 2016 to establish himself as a good football player before reevaluating his status with them team when his contract expires at the end of the season.