Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has a saying he uses often when talking about undrafted players who are trying to make the roster: “It doesn’t matter how you got here, it’s what you do once you’re here.”
Linebacker Jayson DiManche, an undrafted rookie from Southern Illinois, invoked another Lewis saying – “I see better than I hear” – when talking about his chances of making the roster.
“Not only saying it, but it holds true with the people you see in the locker room,” DiManche said. “There’s a lot of free agents or guys that came in as tryout guys and are on the team.”
Nine of the 12 linebackers on the roster were undrafted out of college, including two of the three starters — James Harrison and Vontaze Burfict.
Linebackers coach Paul Guenther compared DiManche to Emmanuel Lamur, another undrafted player who made the roster last year as a rookie and started earning more and more playing time as the season progressed.
“Jayson has all the athletic ability in the world,” Guenther said. “He’s just got to get to the point where he understands exactly what he’s doing on every play, and when that happens, he’s going to make a huge jump. He’s a lot like Lamur last year, a guy with a lot of athletic ability and as soon as I could cut down on the mental side of it and let his physical abilities take over, I knew he was going to good player.
“You could kind of start seeing that in the preseason game,” Guenther added. “He made a big step.”
DiManche was in for 22 percent of the defensive snaps in the preseason opener at Atlanta, and both of his tackles went for a loss — including a quarterback sack where he first failed to wrap up Dominique Davis but was able to recover and chase him down from behind.
His other stop came when he took down running back Josh Vaughn 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
“I’m still getting my feet a little bit and trying to have a bigger role on the team and show the coaches I can do more as a player,” DiManche said. “I think the guys are starting to show a little more trust and believe in me a little more.
“I think the older guys have done a really good job of helping me along with things,” he continued. “They’ve been showing me a lot, not only with the playbook but with techniques and just how to be a good linebacker in the NFL. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to pick things up the way I have.”
Of the 12 linebackers on the roster, it’s expected only six will make the final cut to 53. And DiManche has made it clear he’s going to be in the conversation.
“Everybody wants to make the team, but he’s a guy you can point out on the film because of what he does,” starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga said. “Of the guys I could point to at linebacker, he’s the one who is making strides and really looking good.”
The biggest challenge for DiManche, who essentially was a defensive end in college, is learning the pass drops and how to cover in space. And, of course, forgetting the weekend of April 24-26 when all 32 teams passed on him.
“I definitely remember how I felt after the draft when I didn’t hear my name called and being, not disappointed, but kind of feeling like maybe I wasn’t good enough,” he added. “But I knew I was going to get my opportunity and I was going to have to do a good job of taking advantage of it.”