Hunt making impressive showing in Bengals’ camp

Published 2:45 am Tuesday, August 19, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) — When defensive end Margus Hunt lined up during training camp as a rookie, his new Cincinnati Bengals teammates couldn’t help but think of a movie character.

He repeatedly got compared to Ivan Drago from “Rocky IV.” As a crew for HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series filmed one practice, teammate Geno Atkins mentioned that the 6-foot-8, 290-pound lineman has a physique like that of the Russian boxer.

“Everyone keeps talking about that,” Hunt says while the cameras roll.

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Then he played along, lining up and reciting Drago’s memorable line.

“I must break you,” he says.

In his second season, he’s not fooling. Hunt has made several highlight-reel plays during the Bengals’ two preseason games, showing he’s fast getting the feel for what is essentially a new sport. And he’s showing his teammates why Cincinnati took him in the second round last year.

“He’s so strong,” defensive tackle Domata Peko said Monday. “It’s good to see him moving guys around. With Michael Johnson gone, we’re really going to need him to step up.”

Johnson left as a free agent after last season, creating an opening for a pass rusher at end. Hunt is getting a chance to earn a prominent role in Cincinnati’s rotation. Halfway through the preseason, the coaching staff sees enormous progress from a year ago.

“He does keep doing good things,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’re going to keep pressing him and keep giving him opportunity to do those things and keep growing.”

He had a lot of room to grow.

The Estonian went to Southern Methodist as a track star. When the school disbanded the program, he tried football for the first time, using his strength and speed to block kicks. He was still raw as a player when the Bengals drafted him.

He was inactive for most of the first half last season, but gradually got some playing time and showed bursts of the talent that made him worthy of a second-round pick. He shared a sack, had seven quarterback pressures and four tackles. He also learned a lot by lining up against offensive tackles Andre Smith and Anthony Collins in practice.

“The other thing I had to kind of get used to was how to play the game on the line and play against offensive linemen like this who are veterans and know how to use their leverage,” Hunt said.

During the first preseason game, Hunt got Chiefs tackle Jeff Linkenbach moving backward and shoved him aside with one arm to get to the quarterback. Against the Jets on Saturday night, Hunt pushed through the line to tackle a running back for a loss.

He doesn’t look lost anymore.

“It’s like day and night,” Peko said. “He’s been playing a lot more aggressive this year. We’re excited about how he’s coming along. He’s starting to get the game more. He’s still sort of new to football. It seems like he’s starting to get the mental part.”

Hunt’s biggest adjustment was learning what’s expected of an NFL defensive end. It took him time to become familiar with all the alignments and assignments in Cincinnati’s 4-3 system. In his second training camp, it’s second-nature.

“I feel it’s been going really well,” he said. “It’s definitely different because I have more time in the system, know more about the defense. I’ve been able to play a lot faster because I’m more comfortable with what we’re doing out there.”

Those two shove-’em-aside plays in the preseason are the best evidence. Anytime a pass rusher can just push a blocker out of the way to get to the passer or the runner, it’s especially pleasing.

“But at the same time, you’re going against another guy who’s big and strong,” Hunt said. “There’s a certain time and point for every move like that. You just have to be smart with it.”


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