The Cincinnati Bengals have played only two games, and already, each of their top three draft picks has more snaps at their primary position than 2022 first-round selection Dax Hill had throughout his entire rookie season.
Blocked by veterans Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell, Hill logged just 20 snaps at safety in 19 regular-season and postseason games.
What Has Bengals DC Lou Anarumo Seen From His Rookie Draft Picks?
Through the first two games this season, first-round defensive end Myles Murphy has 32 snaps, second-round cornerback DJ Turner has 59, and third-round safety Jordan Battle has 26.
“I think it’ll pay dividends down the road for sure,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said after watching film of the team’s 27-24 loss to the Ravens.
But there are going to be growing pains before those dividends cash, and Anarumo spent some time Monday detailing a couple of plays that illustrate where the rookies are on the learning curve.
Battle got his first significant snaps Sunday when starter Nick Scott left the game injured twice, once in the second quarter and again in the fourth, at which point he was ruled out with a concussion. Anarumo brought up one of Battle’s first plays — a 1st-and-10 at the Baltimore 47 — when asked how the rookie did.
“He’s at the point of attack on one of the runs where he’s standing right in the gap,” Anarumo said. “It’s a simple fit, and he’s kind of soft and playing pass instead of playing run, and it’s (8) yards. He’s the free hitter. Nobody blocked him.”
Battle, who is lined up alongside linebackers Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt, looks into the backfield but inexplicably backpedals as Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson hands the ball to running back Justice Hill.
After he reacts and recovers, he misses the tackle on Hill, turning a five-yard run into a gain of eight.
“It’s all lessons learned,” Anarumo said. “Unfortunately, this time of year, it costs you when you have a rookie safety in that situation where they’re a little unsure, and it’s his first time. But he’ll get better and learn from it.”
Turner has had the most work through the first two games as he rotates with starting corner Chidobe Awuzie as part of a load management program, with Awuzie seeing his first action since tearing his ACL last Halloween. And, for the most part, Turner has played well.
But Anarumo pointed at Turner on a play that was not only the longest but the biggest momentum swing of the game when Jackson hit Zay Flowers for 52 yards one play after Baltimore safety Geno Stone intercepted Joe Burrow at the goal line.
HOLY ZAY !!!!!!!!!!
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 17, 2023
Turner was at left corner on Rashod Bateman. His assignment was to pass him off to Dax Hill and be the help on a deep shot, which in this case went to Flowers with Cam Taylor-Britt in coverage.
“I thought the guys were in really good shape,” Anarumo said. “I thought Cam was there. It was a hell of a throw-and-catch. DJ could’ve pushed quicker. He ended up getting there. He was about a stride away from being close enough to knock the ball away, so it’s a lesson learned for the rookie there.”
“As soon as we do the coverage, we did it there, he’s got to go like a bat out of hell and get there,” Anarumo continued. “So he should intercept it, really, at the end of the day. We’re kind of losing a safety and gaining a safety, and he was just a little bit slow.”
Murphy has yet to show up on the stat sheet in either of his first two games. He played 13 snaps against the Browns and 19 against the Ravens. Pro Football Focus credited Murphy with a pressure against Baltimore, but the rookie from Clemson is still looking for his first tackle and quarterback hit.
But Anarumo had a much more positive take on what he’s seen from Murphy.
“He just keeps getting better each week. You see his speed, you see his athleticism, similar to Dax,” Anarumo said, adding that he doesn’t think Hill would have been able to play this early as a rookie as Murphy has.
“Now that (Hill) has a year under his belt, he’s making plays out there. He’s being aggressive. It’ll be the same for (Murphy), and hopefully, he’ll continue to make plays for us as the season goes on this year,” Anarumo said. “We’re gonna have him out there. He’s gonna get his reps. I just think every week is a learning experience for him.”
Whether Battle continues to get snaps will depend on how quickly Scott recovers from his concussion, and Turner’s usage will be tied to when the staff feels comfortable about Awuzie’s recovery to use him full time.
Murphy’s playing time could be contingent on outside forces as well, with Joseph Ossai expected to be back soon, possibly Monday night, from his ankle injury.
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