Nov 10, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Margus Hunt (99) warms up prior to the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Margus Hunt Set for Big Jump?

With Michal Johnson out of the picture, all eyes turn to Margus Hunt — the freakish SMU product the Cincinnati Bengals selected in the second round a year ago.

At 6’8″ and 280 pounds, Hunt has clearly been Cincinnati’s insurance policy if the front office could not work something out with Johnson. While a bit raw from a football sense, Hunt has the physical prowess simply in need of the proper mold to succeed at the pro level.

Former defensive coordinator and now Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is one who believes Hunt is in for a bit sophomore jump, according to Geoff Hobson of the team’s website:

“Those guys have a good team. That’s a good defensive team,” Zimmer said. “They’ll be fine. (Wallace) Gilberry is good. I think Margus Hunt will take a big jump. They’ve positioned themselves we’ll for a long time.”

“Yeah, we’ve talked some. Those are good players. He’ll do fine,” Zimmer said. “He’s got a good defensive team there.  He helped me with protections and he did a good job with the linebackers.”

While not eye-opening in any regard, it has to be reassuring to hear that Zimmer believes Hunt will still take a big step — without him there.

As far as concerns this offseason go, that had to be high on the list. Would the defense, without the guidance of Zimmer, still play at a high level? Would some of the project or rehab players continue their successful play without Zimmer leading the way?

Zimmer himself believes Hunt will still thrive under new coordinator Paul Guenther. That’s a big co-sign, and it meshes well with what we already know about Hunt. Not many should expect Hunt to explode on his own, as a rotational role with the likes of Wallace Gilberry and possibly a rookie makes sense at this point.

But Hunt flashed last year as he was granted more playing time. If it continues and Zimmer is right, it is easy to understand why the Bengals were comfortable with letting Johnson get away. Similar production at a fraction of the cost keeps free cap space relatively high, which in turn means guys like Vontaze Burfict and A.J. Green will stick around for the long haul.

Oh, and it also means Hunt is the next successful gamble at defensive end who turns into a pretty solid player. Not a bad deal overall.

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