CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals turned the first two days of their NFL draft into an upgrade for the offense, re-signing right tackle Andre Smith while bringing a tight end and a running back aboard.
Things went so well that they felt free to take a chance on a track star-turned-defensive end from Estonia in the second round.
Smith had been the only missing piece of the starting offense from last season, when the Bengals reached the playoffs for the second year in a row as a wild card and lost to Houston. The unrestricted free agent finally decided to stay with Cincinnati, which drafted him in the first round in 2009.
The defense has been the strength of the team, finishing sixth overall last season. The offense struggled in the big games, especially the playoff loss in Houston. It’s clear where they have to improve.
“It’s just going to be up to us to do our part on offense,” said Smith, who got a three-year deal.
It’s got a chance to get better.
The Bengals took Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round on Thursday night, giving quarterback Andy Dalton another proven pass catcher to complement Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green.
They picked running back Giovani Bernard from North Carolina with the first of their two choices in the second round on Friday night. They’re looking for a back to complement BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who is more of a straight-ahead runner. Bernard was the first running back taken in the draft.
“You can plug me into any type of situation, plug me into any type of offense,” Bernard said. “I’m a guy who’s going to accept my role, whatever the role is going to be.”
The pick completed a deal for quarterback Carson Palmer that has worked out wonderfully for Cincinnati. The Bengals traded Palmer to Oakland midway through the 2011 season for the Raiders’ first-round pick last year and their second-round pick this year. They got cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in 2012.
The tilt toward offense showed a determination to fix the thing holding them back. The Bengals have lost to Houston in the first round of the playoffs each of the last two years, with the offense failing to deliver.
“Hey, I’m loving it,” Smith said. “Another running back, another tight end to get the ball to. It’s been a tremendous draft. I’m enjoying it.”
Satisfied at that point, they chose one of the more intriguing players with their other pick in the second round. Defensive end Margus Hunt was one of three defensive ends in the draft who were born abroad and came from other sports.
The 6-foot-8, 277-pound Hunt went to Southern Methodist as a track and field star from Estonia. He set a junior world record in the discus and competed internationally in the hammer throw and shot put.
When SMU dropped track and field, Hunt tried out for the football team in 2009. He didn’t even know how to put on the pads at first. The coaches started teaching him the game by getting him to block kicks. He quickly became adept at it, blocking seven his first season.
He got better every year, using his exceptional strength and speed to get eight sacks last season. The Bengals have one of the deepest defensive lines in the league and are willing to give Hunt time to develop.
“When you watch the tape, it’s not all the time, but there’s flashes where you say, `Wow!'” defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. “We’ve just got to point him in the right direction.”
Hunt’s mother and sister were with him when he was drafted on Friday. It had been a year since he’d seen his mother, who lives in Estonia.
“To say the least, they were freaking out today,” Hunt said.
When he decided to switch to football, his family was opposed. His mother worried that he’d get hurt. Four years later, he’s a second-round pick in the NFL.
“I’ve really grown to love this game,” Hunt said.
The Bengals finished the second day of the draft by taking Georgia strong safety Shawn Williams in the third round, bringing in another player at a spot that has been in flux.
Coach Marvin Lewis was satisfied that the Bengals gave themselves more options in positions where they needed help — another pass catcher, a change-of-pace running back and a strong safety.
“We’ve kind of filled what in my mind were perceived as open chairs,” Lewis said.