Bengals' Hunt still learning 'recklessness'

CINCINNATI -- There's a certain edge, a type of nastiness that good pass-rushers must possess when it comes to keeping quarterbacks in their place.

Margus Hunt is well aware of that.

His coaches are also aware that Hunt has to start applying it better on game day. Once he starts doing that, he will greatly surpass the high expectations many around the team have long had for him.

"There's some violence to playing that spot and some recklessness that needs to occur," head coach Marvin Lewis said of the defensive end position. "It's OK to have that recklessness when it's live out there [in games], but we don't want to quite have that recklessness when it's here [in practices]."

It's been the balance of continuing to push through plays in games versus pulling up in practices that has tripped Hunt a bit in the little live action he has received these last two years. After getting it virtually branded onto his brain that he can't come anywhere close to the tackling the quarterback in practices, he's had some difficulty rejecting that idea when he's been in live-game scenarios.

Although he had one sack in last Thursday's preseason opener at Kansas City, Hunt felt like he could have had more had he not been so subconsciously quick to slow down at the end of a couple other pass rushes.

"Finishing was the issue a couple of times," Hunt said. "I had one opportunity to get another sack and I just ran past the guy. That was a missed opportunity."

Remember, that was Hunt's first game since January, and it was the most defensive snaps he saw in a game since last October when he played 30 downs in the 49-9 home blowout win over the Jets. While he isn't likely to see 30 snaps Saturday when the New York Jets come to town for the second time in 10 months, Hunt still hopes to take better advantage of the repetitions he will have than he did with the 22 he had last week.

As Lewis said, Hunt just has to continue realizing he's chasing down Geno Smith and Michael Vick, and not Andy Dalton or Matt Scott.

"It's hard to have defensive guys working at their craft out here when they need to stay away from the quarterback," Lewis said.

To prevent injury to the team's signal-callers, teams often ask rushers to peel off or stop their rush altogether in practices, even when it appears they might actually have a sack.

"You just have to learn how to do it in practice where you're not getting into Andy's feet or whoever's in there and get into their way and possibly hurt them," Hunt said.

While finishing may still be an issue in Hunt's eyes, his beginnings have gotten dramatically better.

Coaches spent all last season working with him on developing moves and counter moves that might make him better suited for getting by the offensive tackles and tight ends he'll see on a regular basis at end. Hunt also worked on developing a series of moves to get by centers and guards for those times when he'll be lined up in the line's interior as a rushing defensive tackle in the nickel defense.

Perhaps the rush technique he's getting down best is the bull-rush. At 6-foot-8 and more than 280 pounds, it makes the most sense for him to come off the line by simply manhandling his blocker with his hulking size and strength.

"The picking up techniques part, it's not really that difficult," Hunt said. "It's just the fact of learning how to use them. Now, it's just more about the reaction and learning how to be quicker to react to the blocker."

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has seen Hunt developing tactics beyond the bull-rush.

"He's working on everything," Guenther said. "You've got to have more than just the bull-rush or guys are going to anchor down on us. So he has to have the ability to come under a tackle or long-arm them."

So far, Lewis likes what he sees out of Hunt. Even with the minor finishing issues aside, Lewis seems happy with the overall player. Along with Hunt's size and ability to power past blockers, the young lineman has other traits the coach adores.

"We're going to keep pressing him and keep giving him opportunities to do those things and keep growing," Lewis said. "Coming on as a rusher is important for us as he continues to take positive steps."