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'Versatility' continues to be offseason buzzword for Bengals

CINCINNATI -- Hue Jackson was speaking primarily about the Cincinnati Bengals who play on his side of the football, but his quote below could be applied to virtually any position on the team's roster.

"If a guy can do more things for your offensive football team," the offensive coordinator said earlier this spring, "he has a little bit more versatility, and you can find different ways of using skill like that."

In the world according to the Bengals, the more a player can do, the more valuable he can be.

Just as it often has been in recent years, "versatility" has been the Bengals' buzzword this offseason as they get players acclimated to wearing a variety of hats. Some running backs aren't only ball carriers, they also are required to regularly catch and/or lead block. Linebackers aren't restricted to playing the "Mike" position. They are asked to rove among the two outside linebacker spots, too.

While other teams might be quick to push versatility on their teams at this stage of the offseason calendar, the Bengals seem to be paying more than just lip service toward getting it done.

During organized team activities (OTAs) the last three weeks, they put players across the team in roles that aren't part of their standard base-scheme jobs. In this week's mandatory minicamp, they should continue doing so.

Running back Rex Burkhead probably will keep taking a significant number of snaps at receiver. Running back James Wilder Jr. will get a few more reps at fullback for the first time since he was in high school. Each of the linebackers will keep playing different positions within their position group. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard will still get time on both the boundary and in the slot.

Much of it is experimental for now. This is the time of year when teams can tinker with formations and plays and personnel in creative ways. But it feels like some of these experiments could take some concrete shape when the season begins.

Consider the Burkhead example.

Since January coaches have harped on how much they want to get the backup running back more involved. He touched the ball only 20 times total last year, with four of them coming in the playoff loss at Indianapolis. All four of those touches also came with him lined up in the slot, playing receiver for a battered pass-catching unit that was without the likes of A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones and James Wright.

"He can do a little bit of everything," Jackson said about Burkhead. "He can run the ball, too. He can catch, protect. He's one of the better players on our team so we will see what we can do with him."

Translation: If Burkhead keeps performing well in offseason and preseason practices, he will see more game action in 2015.

The same may be said in Cincinnati's secondary, where Dennard and fellow young corner Dre Kirkpatrick ought to receive the most action of their careers this season.

"We are going to rotate a lot of guys," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "One thing I learned last year [after injuries hit the defense] is you have to make sure the backup guys are ready to go. So there's going to be some guys working in with the first group, second group. We really don't even have groups right now. We have 11 guys out there."

And most of those 11 could call multiple positions home.