The Cincinnati Bengals need a significant turnaround after finishing 2019 with a 2-14 record, and making use of the offseason to provide depth at linebacker by adding players like Markus Bailey out of Purdue has been a big part of that. Bailey is one of three players the team drafted at the position in the 2020 NFL Draft, in addition to Logan Wilson out of Wyoming and Akeem Davis-Gaither of Appalachian State.
“Going into camp, it was kind of set up for competition,” Bailey said. “Nothing was really defined. But, I think we all competed really well, and I think we all put ourselves in a position to be able to play.”
It has certainly been an interesting offseason for Bailey, who spoke freely about the fascinating journey that he and his fellow rookies have been on so far in their transition from college to the NFL.
What has Bailey had to learn at linebacker for 2020?
In addition to having to learn the playbook with the installs happening so fast and adjusting to the level of play in the NFL, rookies were placed at a disadvantage due to pushed back dates and not being able to get to the practice field as early as intended with restrictions surrounding the current global situation.
“Being a rookie, and then factoring in the whole pandemic, everything’s been a lot different for a lot of people,” Bailey said. “So I just try to control what I can control with my preparation and my effort every day. I put myself in the best position possible. I can’t control what the decision-makers do.”
Players like Bailey have made significant progress since they’ve reported but suffered the most major effects of the disruption ahead of the draft with pro days canceled across the country.
“I definitely was set back in the pre-draft process, because it kind of took away all the visits and the workouts and everything and my pro day,” Bailey said. “And then, not being able to have in-person OTAs, it’s just different. But, I didn’t really have anything to compare it to because this is my first year.”
The Bengals linebacker is a player who many analysts believe should have gone much higher in the draft, the difference between being selected in the seventh round and the second round, if it weren’t for a torn ACL that sidelined him just two games into his senior season.
With the type of production he had for the Boilermakers, and taking into account that he’s back at full capacity, he looks like he could be one of the biggest steals of the draft. But he wants to prove that first.
What Bailey wants to show he’s capable of as linebacker
“I guess that’s to be determined,” he said. “I know I’m confident in my ability to play at this level; I just have to go on the field and do it. I can’t say I’m going to be one of the steals of the draft yet. We’ll see what happens once the season gets rolling, but I’m just excited to do whatever I can to help the team out.”
Bailey and the younger defensive players, who he says he thinks have all done well-picking things up, are in good hands with mentors like veteran Josh Bynes.
“Being around someone like Bynes who has been in the league for so long, you know that he’s got some good wisdom and he understands how things work in the NFL, so I think he’s done a good job being the leader and mentor for the young guys, helping us see things,” he said. “He says he’s been able to stay in the league because he’s been smart. He has a high football IQ, and he’s been able to make plays. I think he’s done a good job helping us see the game the way he does. That’s someone who’s probably influenced me the most so far.”
The experience of facing Joe Burrow in camp
Another part of preparation comes with facing the talent on the Cincinnati offense in practice, and Bailey isn’t the only rookie who has ties to Ohio. Former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow returned to the state where he started it all after being selected by the Bengals with the first overall pick in the draft.
“Everyone knew Joe Burrow was going to be the first pick,” Bailey said. “When I got drafted by the Bengals, I thought that it was going to be pretty cool being able to go up against one of the best quarterbacks, coming off of one of the best college seasons a quarterback has ever had.”
Bailey says he and Burrow know some of the same people he knows from back home, and that it’s been beneficial to have the opportunity to face him in camp. The Heisman winner has put on a solid showing already, and his peers are taking notice of what he brings to the table after.
“You can see why he’s the player that he is. He’s been doing great throughout camp, and he’s been a great person to go against while preparing as a linebacker to go against the elite quarterbacks at this level. Just his accuracy and the way he’s able to diagnose coverages and make checks and everything — I think he’s been doing a great job. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Bailey is excited to compete against the AFC North
Some rookies have their sights set on a particular player or team they look forward to facing now that they have an opportunity at the professional level, but Bailey is taking things one day at a time in his first year.
“We’ve got the Chargers coming up in Week 1, so that’s probably my biggest focus right now. I don’t look too far ahead. But I know the AFC North has some good competition, and I’m looking forward to playing against some great quarterbacks and some great running backs in the league. I’m excited to be in the division that I’m in.”
The Bengals are set to open the season at home against Los Angeles on Sept. 13 at 3:05 p.m. CT.