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Margus Hunt can't still be considered a project, says Marvin Lewis

Margus Hunt came to the NFL three years ago as a second-round pick who was still near the dawn of his football-playing days.

Since the defensive end had limited experience playing the sport before his selection, he was viewed as a project.

But is he still?

"No, he's not a project at all," Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said at the owners meetings in Phoenix earlier this week, all but scoffing at the idea.

Unlike most professional football players, who began honing their fundamentals in Pop Warner leagues and on high school teams, Hunt had a four-year cram session in college while playing at SMU. The native Estonian originally enrolled at SMU to participate on the school's track and field team. Before college, he had competed internationally in the shot, discus and hammer throw. But when the track team was disbanded by SMU just as he was getting settled in Texas, he went out for the football team on a whim.

Whim or not, he dominated, using his 6-foot-8 frame to set an NCAA record in blocked field goal attempts and earning all-conference honors as a rush end.

Clearly the potential was there.

Because of it, the Bengals took a gamble and drafted Hunt, knowing they would have to devote the early days of his NFL career to teaching him fundamentals and technique that he previously had little need for. "Patience" was going to be the key word as it pertained to Hunt.

But now entering the third year of the Hunt experiment, it doesn't appear on the surface as if the second-round gamble has paid off. Hunt only has nine tackles and 1.5 sacks in his two seasons. He's barely been on the field, last year dealing with an ankle injury that sidelined him four games. He was forced to sit just when the Bengals thought he was beginning to get a full grasp of the concepts of his position. As a result, some view it as if he's almost starting over again.

"I anticipate spending a lot of time with him and Will [Clarke] this offseason because we've got to get those guys going," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said back in January, referring also to Clarke, a second-year defensive end.

Like Hunt, who was drafted a year before him, Clarke was limited in his production as a rookie. Through seven games, he had three tackles.

Part of the reason Lewis no longer views Hunt as a project is because he thinks the time off Hunt had late last season will end up being beneficial.

"He's had two years of football where he's done some things but unfortunately he had a couple of injuries last year that he had to overcome and he missed time," Lewis said. "But sometimes when you miss time you come out of that even better. For him, you step back and you watch others play, which was helpful for him."

It remains to be seen just how helpful it will be.