CINCINNATI -- Even though it is still early on the Cincinnati Bengals' preseason calendar, coach Marvin Lewis still has reason to believe defensive end Margus Hunt will make exponential growth as he begins his second season in the NFL.
"It's been that thus far," Lewis said during his first training camp news conference Friday afternoon.
After unofficially "redshirting" as a rookie last season, the foreign-born lineman who entered the league having played just two years of college football has grown comfortable enough with the concepts of his position at this level that Lewis believes he'll play this season much the way a wily veteran would: loose and free.
"He's one of the [young] guys that I would write down on that list to see them out there and playing -- really playing," Lewis added. "Now that he knows what to do, he can play carefree and pin his ears back and go. He can play faster."
Hunt mentioned at times this offseason how much more he felt he belonged in the Bengals' system.
"I did a lot better than I did last year," Hunt said as organized team activities ended late last month. "I'm a lot more comfortable with the plays and the situations and that kind of stuff. It's a good feeling."
From the moment the Bengals learned for certain in March that defensive end Michael Johnson was signing with the Buccaneers as a free agent, it became clear Hunt's learning curve had to speed up slightly. His progression from scout squad defender to weekly regular would need to occur instantly. His whole purpose for being selected in the second round of the 2013 draft was coming to fruition. With Johnson now out of the picture, the baton had been passed. It was time for Hunt to step up.
But he's not the only one. Hunt will be spending all of this camp proving he belongs in the starting rotation, as well as in multiple sub-packages the Bengals will be installing throughout the next few weeks. For now, he'll continue sharing time with Wallace Gilberry at the position as the Bengals put those rotations into motion.
Part of what Lewis believes has helped Hunt, and will continue to help other second-year players such as Giovani Bernard, Rex Burkhead, Tyler Eifert and Tanner Hawkinson among others, is the fact that they now all know exactly what's required of them as pro players.
"They know what's going on; what's expected of them," Lewis said. "[They know] what training camp is like, what the offseason is like, how the preseason games unfold. When you take some of the anxiety of those things away, you're able to focus better."