Last season, the Bengals starting linebacker trio of Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga, and Emmanuel Lamur missed a combined 17 regular season games due to injury. If you’re looking for something positive that came from their absence, it meant that the team’s younger backups were able to get significant NFL experience.
“Now those are some rose-colored glasses right there,” said linebackers coach Matt Burke with a laugh. “I certainly wasn’t feeling blessed about it at the time.”
But it was a blessing in disguise for rookie Marquis Flowers, a sixth-round draft choice who appeared in every game and got 22 snaps at linebacker in the playoff loss at Indianapolis.
“I ended up getting a lot of snaps and one of the biggest things that I learned is that you’ve got to be ready,” said Flowers. “Obviously you always want to play, but I wanted to be ready. You don’t want to go in there and feel like you did badly.”
“He actually played all three spots at times for us last year,” said Burke. “That’s tough for a rookie, but I threw him in and at least he has a little bit of a foundation everywhere.
“Part of my approach this offseason is rolling guys through. Every one of them is playing at least two of the positions to cross-train them.”
The adjustment to the NFL was especially big for Flowers because he only played linebacker at the University of Arizona for two seasons after beginning his college career at safety.
“My rookie year was a big learning curve,” Flowers told me. “I learned from the older guys that it’s a long season and you have to take care of your body and be patient. I’m glad my locker is right next to Vinny Rey’s because he helped me out tremendously last year. He could tell when I came back this year that I’m a lot more comfortable. But I’m still young and I’m still learning.
“I got a chance to get on the field last year so this year I know what to expect. I know what the game is like and what the speed is like and this year I’ve got to be more comfortable with the playbook so that the coaches will trust me and can call whatever they need to.”
His position coach has already noticed a difference.
“We gave the whole defense a test in a meeting the other day and he got a 100% on it,” said Burke. “He was one of three linebackers that got ‘em all right.”
“We’re going to put it to the text next week when OTAs start,” said Flowers. “I’ve been doing well and have (the defense) down, but it’s all about what happens when it’s ‘go time.’ I’ve done a lot of studying and I’ve been preparing, so we’ll see next week.”
The 23-year-old returned to Cincinnati for voluntary workouts noticeably larger than last season when he was listed at 230 pounds coming out of college.
“I actually put on 17 pounds,” said Flowers. “I plan on dropping four or five to get to my playing weight, so everything is falling into place. It’s year two and I’m a lot more comfortable in everything that I do. I definitely know what to expect.
“I basically wanted to get my body right and get stronger in the offseason. I ended up having a great offseason. I got bigger, faster, and stronger.”
“The work that he put in the offseason really shows,” said Burke.
Flowers definitely does not resemble a safety anymore.
“The safety in me has been gone since college,” he said. “I started eating like a linebacker since I moved to the position.”
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