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Cincinnati Bengals: Defensive rookies eager to learn from veterans

Cincinnati Bengals’ rookie minicamp was a little more difficult than safety Jessie Bates expected.

The second-round draft pick out of Wake Forest said practice surprisingly went a little more smoothly Monday when the rookies joined the veterans at the team’s voluntary workout program for the first time.

The Bengals draft picks and college free agent signees participated in a three-day minicamp over the weekend to get acclimated to the team, but now will be working with the veterans going forward. Voluntary workouts continue this week before the start of organized team activities May 22.

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“The (second-year) guys who were on practice squad last year (that participated in minicamp) said those were probably among the hardest practices they’ve experienced, and I think it was just because the numbers were smaller and we had less down time,” Bates said. “It was reassuring just knowing when you have older guys and have more people, you won’t be so worn out during practices.

“It was a great experience, but now it’s better getting in with the older guys, getting to know your teammates, the vets and getting advice and more help.”

Rookie cornerback Davontae Harris, a fifth-round pick out of Illinois State, said he is just treating his first few weeks as “a process,” understanding there is a “huge learning curve” and trying not to get overwhelmed.

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In the smaller setting of minicamp, it was easy to feel confident and comfortable among the other first-year players, but Monday brought back the feelings of being a freshman again.

Bates said it was easy to pick out the rookies in the room at the first meeting.

“The first team meeting all the rookies are to the side, waiting to see where they should sit down and don’t want to step on anyone’s toes and stuff like that, but once we got out there, the vets were very interactive with us,” Bates said. “It’s a really good locker room, really good guys, so that helps the rookies with the transition.”

Many of the rookies already had veterans they wanted to seek out.

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For Bates, it was George Iloka and Shawn Williams. Harris wanted to pick Dre Kirkpatrick’s brain, and defensive tackle Andrew Brown, a fifth-round pick out of Virginia, has been itching to learn from Geno Atkins since the draft. Five of the Bengals’ first eight draft picks were defensive players.

“It’s just like being a freshman in the sense you’re just trying to feel your way, trying to find guys to model yourself after and trying to find a way to fit into the mold of the team,” Harris said. “If you want to learn things, you’ve got to go ask questions. I don’t think anyone is going to be overly willing to go out and say, ‘Hey, this is what you do.’ They’ve got to worry about themselves too. So, I just kind of go up to whoever has the most experience or who I think knows best and ask questions.”

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Brown said he’s not afraid to ask for advice, and he believes the veterans will be more accepting of the rookies that don’t act like they already know everything.

“I came in wanting to gain respect of the veterans, and that’s my No. 1 goal,” Brown said. “It went well today. They accepted us and took us under their wings, so I’m just looking to learn everything I can.”

The adjustment to the speed of the game so far has proven similar to the transition from high school to college, according to many of the rookies.

Minicamp was a good introduction to that, but the physicality will be another adjustment once the pads come on during training camp.

“The biggest difference right now is just that you’ve got to pick it up quicker,” Harris said. “You’ve got to do the techniques quicker and the pace is a little faster. The calls are similar — it’s not an overabundance of calls but the tempo is a little faster so that’s just an adjustment.

“I think so far, it’s going well, but we have to remember it’s a process. There’s a huge learning curve, and you just have to do what you can to pick things up and apply it on the field.”

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